At this stage of the season I expected Steve Bruce to be looking for gainful employment at another club and as for Newcastle, I expected the usual struggle at the bottom of the table after losing the talented and well respected Rafa Benitez.
I also thought that with the summer cash splash, Arsenal and Unai Emery would be in a strong position for a top four finish, on course for a Championship place and a sizeable cash injection. In reality, here we are approaching mid February and Bruce is holding his own with Newcastle on level points with the Gunners, who are now in the capable hands of their new coach Mikel Arteta.
There isn’t much to choose between these two outfits at present. Both sides are scrapping for consistency and points to avoid getting sucked into a relegation battle and anyone thinking that this is impossible is oblivious to their predicaments and the unpredictable nature of the Premier League. Even though on paper bookies and certain online betting sites are offering Arsenal better chances to finish higher in the league, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Arsenal actually surprise themselves and manage to finish in the second half of the table.
Newcastle may not look like much on paper, but they have a combative spirit and are able to grind out points with a hardworking team ethic. The stand out player is Miguel Almiron but the work is done by less glamorous names such as Matt Richie, the Longstaff Brothers and Jojo Shelvey.
The most obvious difference between the two is the ability to score goals and to stop conceding them. Newcastle have struggled for goals this term but both sides aren’t far apart in terms of defence, which makes for an interesting game and on paper at least, Arsenal have a modest advantage.
The gunners have won four of the last five games against the Magpies by an aggregate of 7 goals to Newcastle’s 3. More worryingly, Arsenal have only won 4 of their last 12 home games with Newcastle winning just 3 of their last 12 away games.
Make what you will of that information but it’s not enough to suggest an out and out victor. However, three points will certainly be of equal importance to both, especially if the chasing pack pick up wins. Just 4 points separate 10th and 16th and neither team will count a draw as a positive result under the circumstances.
Pablo Mari is likely to debut and partner David Luiz in central defence. I would also expect this type of game to be ideal for Lucas Torreira and that he and Granit Xhaka will reacquaint themselves as the holding midfielders.
I’m taking a leap of faith here, but I’m also thinking that there may be room for either Joe Willock or Dani Ceballos in Mesut Ozil’s role or perhaps Guendouzi late on if Arsenal need some extra zing. Ian Wright has also called for Willock to get his chance, why not, it’s not like Arsenal are going to get top four at the moment. Let’s experiment !
“Joe Willock needs to be pushing people who are not performing. He needs his chance now, Just like he (Willock) is looking at someone like Gabriel Martinelli now. He is someone who has shown, ‘I should be playing in this team’ and now he’s starting”
There’s no place for Alexandre Lacazette in my side due to a goal drought and a result is the most important factor at present.
Preferred Side Against Newcastle United:
Leno; Bellerin, Luiz, Mari, Saka; Torreira, Xhaka; Pepe, Willock, Martinelli; Aubameyang
Probable Side Against Newcastle United:
Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Mari, Saka; Torreira, Xhaka; Pepe, Ceballos, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
Predicted score: 2-1 Arsenal win