We are back from the international break and as we now hurtle headlong into the home straight of the Premier League campaign… each game going forward is going to be must-win and potentially season-defining.
Good day one and all.
‘Monday night football’ comes to the Emirates Stadium tonight as Arsenal, in search of their 10th successive league home win, host Newcastle United.
The Gunners go into this game unbeaten in their last five league outings (W4, D1), outscoring their opponents 12-3; the GA column is particularly welcoming as it means we don’t have to be so kamikaze like in attack but rather more balanced with our ‘shape’, and the 2-0 victory over Manchester United prior to the inter-break, a game we never looked like losing, is something we now hope to not only replicate but to also use as a platform for improved performances with quite a few handy matches coming up in the run-in.
Geordies boss Rafael Benitez is working his magic once more to guide his side to the safety of mid-table as they look much better compared to when we played earlier in the season. From being winless in their opening ten league games (D3, L7) and in the relegation zone mid January, he stuck by his pragmatic tactics and turn things around to now have them on a decent run with only two defeats in their last nine games (W5, D2).
Most of that good form are at St James’ Park and they don’t travel well, with their last win on the road the 15th December at Huddersfield. So it’s unlikely that Rafa will “have a go”, it’s not in his DNA, and we should expect him rolling out vintage Rafaball: ’11-men behind the ball to stifle the opposition of any space in hopes of nicking a draw’ – anything more will be a bonus, anything less, well, their next game is at the SJP against Crystal Palace.
For Arsenal to get the win here we will need to get the visitors off their game very early and not allow them to getting too comfortable – they do have the patience of Job -because in this charge toward Champions League qualification we cannot afford any mistakes in matches considered to be ‘bankers’, keeping in mind the form of teams around us as only one point separate 3rd from 6th on the league table.
There’s two Newcastle players we will need to keep at arm’s length, top scorer Salomon Rondon, who has 9 goals and 5 assists, and January signing Miguel Almiron; the Magpies’ improved showings coincided with his arrival.
Gunner-in-chief Unai Emery will have a few concerns, Aaron Ramsey got back from international duty with injury but is expected fit, so too Nacho Monreal who missed the trip to Dubai. It’s said Granit Xhaka will have a late fitness test, though he could miss out as it’s reported he didn’t make training yesterday. Lucas Torreira of course is serving suspension.
Newcastle have been playing well recently and that is certainly something that will give the away end reason for optimism, however, Arsenal do crank things up in front of the Emirates faithful and I don’t think tonight will be different.
Here’s hoping the boys give a good account of themselves.