After sharing the spoils in each of their last four Premier League outings, Arsenal will be looking to get back to winning ways when they host Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon. Both clubs are level on 31 points in the league standings; 11th and 12th-place respectively.
Having our feet stuck in the midtable mud is far from ideal for a club of Arsenal’s stature but to be fair to Mikel Arteta, a lot of what went wrong this campaign precedes his arrival and what he is trying to achieve is something that lasts beyond a quick-fix.
A positive thus far is our defence being more structured, without being setup to defend from deep. In recent weeks the much-maligned Shkodran Mustafi particularly has come a long way, playing some of his best football. He’s a smart guy though and will know that even with Arteta having only good things to say about him, he still has some way to go before winning over a fanbase that are very reluctant to give him his dues.
A cause for concern now is our misfiring attack, and it’s not like they’re short of goal scoring opportunities but just lacking confidence. Be that as it may, hopefully their time out in the desert was just the right tonic. There’s already two-thirds of the season gone, so if we want to keep hope alive of a top-six finish they have to get their mojo back because we simply have to beat the Geordies.
Newcastle will be making this trip to North London with ideas of their own, which does not include being pushovers. They’re on a current eight-match unbeaten run across all competitions, with an excellent 1-0 win over Chelsea the highlight in that run.
Steve Bruce do seem to have a certain blueprint when coming up against “the better sides”. It’s one of those where instead of going for a win, he just set his team up to be very hard to break down and on the odd occasion even gets a smash-and-grab. It’s a formula with varied success but against the top-six sides they’ll take what they can.
The Geordies got their issues but their fans can be relatively pleased at this stage of the season, enjoying a seven-point cushion over the bottom-three. A further nine points from their last 13 games should be enough to ensure survival and give them something to build on.
Arsenal have a good head-to-head record versus Newcastle, winning 13 of the last 14 encounters. That includes seven straight home wins in which we outscored them 20 goals to five. Hopefully we extend on that.
Sead Kolasinac is expected to return to the lineup after his recovery from injury. Reiss Nelson is also back and could make the bench.
With Arsenal short of goals Arteta may consider bringing Nicolas Pépé back in, to likely replace Alexandre Lacazette who hasn’t scored a goal in his last eight starts.
New signings Cédric Soares is still nursing a knee injury, while Pablo Mari may have to wait till later in the week to make his debut with our Europa League trip to Olympiakos.
As for Newcastle, they got quite a long injury list but we might get to see a familiar face with Danny Rose expected to make his debut at left-back.
In games following a break teams usually struggle for fluency, over hitting passes and the timing of runs not quite there; and this afternoon may be no different. So with Bruce well aware of his sides miserable record against the Gunners he may just opt to keep things tight for as long as he can, hoping to catch us against the run of play.
However, the Arsenal could grow stronger as the game goes on with their class eventually coming through in the latter stages to just do enough to keep all three points at the Emirates. Therefore, I foresee a home win, yet low scoring affair. COYG!