On paper, this third round ‘Arsenal Cup’ tie against Newcastle at the Emirates should be a reasonably balanced contest with the pundits narrowly favouring a resurgent Arsenal, but this is a cup competition that is decided on performance on the day, not on reputation, stature or form.
One mistake and it could mean an exit, whether you are the holders or challengers, whether you are the winners for a record number of times, 14 in the case of Arsenal, or 6 in favour of Newcastle, two of which were against Arsenal in 1932 & 1952.
Newcastle come into the game having shipped 12 goals in 6 games with losses to City, Brentford in the EFL Cup, and a 5-2 spanking at the hands of Leeds. However, they turned up the gas against Liverpool for a commendable 0-0 draw.
They currently sit in 15th place in the Premier League, just 4 points behind the Gunners, and have a marginally worse goal aggregate with 18 goals scored and 26 conceded, so the obvious problem is both in defence and attack. Bruce added Callum Wilson but he’s yet to receive the chances and service to make him prolific in front of goal, yet the talent is there.
The Arsenal vs Newcastle game will probably see the return of Thomas Partey after injury and could feasibly see Mikel Arteta rotate the squad which wouldn’t please Steve Bruce, who feels the credibility of the cup has plummeted as sides use the competition to give their youngsters a run-out.
Steve Bruce said that fielding youth teams in the FA Cup “devalues” the competition even amid the pandemic. The Newcastle United manager said:
“We understand the restrictions, the season has been squashed and there is no room for anything else. [But] to play weakened teams and your youth team is not the way round it for me, personally,”
“I think it devalues the FA Cup.”
I guess it depends on whether you win or lose, which excuses you come up with and Bruce could use – “They have so much depth and quality even with their kids” if he loses, or claim victory with “We knew Arsenal would be tough even with some of their academy players today, but we did what we had to do and played well.”
Yes, they call it hedging your bets, something Bruce has learned under the scornful, unforgiving and grudging eye of Alex Ferguson, who once hypnotised the officials into allowing his side to change their kit at half time because his players couldn’t see one another in the grey strip. Can I recommend Spec-Savers!!
Newcastle have a clutch of very talented players who would be welcome at the Emirates including Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron, Joelinton, Callum Wilson, and uncle Fester’s stunt man Jonjo Shelvey. Shelvey is an enormously underrated talent and could easily pull the strings for Newcastle to get the win against Arsenal. However, he might find that difficult if Partey and Xhaka are in the playing XI.
So from an Arsenal point of view, how many changes make sense? Expect at least six. I can’t see him playing Bellerin or Aubameyang, but I’d certainly keep Rowe Smith in the side even if it were for 60 minutes just to fine-tune his emerging skills. Saka might be rested and Pepe or his much more useless twin Willian could replace him.
I’d put Martinelli on the left with Tierney and put Maitland-Niles on the right with Pepe and the in-form Lacazette in the middle of the attack. Luiz could return to the side to replace either Holding or Mari but Gabriel is due to return and a combination of Gabriel and Mari at the back is certainly exciting.
Match Facts (Courtesy of the BBC):
* Having lost their first three FA Cup ties with Newcastle, Arsenal have progressed/won four of their last five against the Magpies in the competition, most recently a 3-0 win at the Emirates in the fourth round in 2007-08.
* Newcastle’s last three away games against Arsenal in the FA Cup have all ended in 3-0 defeats – in a fifth-round replay in 1936, a quarter-final replay in 2002, and a fourth-round tie in 2008.
* Arsenal have only been eliminated at the third round stage of the FA Cup in one of the last 24 campaigns, with that coming against Nottingham Forest the last time they entered the competition as holders (2017-18).
* Newcastle have been eliminated in 10 of their last 11 FA Cup ties against fellow Premier League opposition, with the exception being a 2-1 win against Blackburn in January 2012.
Predicted Team: Okonkwo/Leno; Maitland-Niles, Mari/Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney; Smith Rowe, Partey, Xhaka; Pepe, Lacazette, Martinelli.
Predicted Score: Arsenal win 2-0