Progress may have been made off the pitch over the past week as far as a takeover is concerned, but events on the pitch have been nothing short of disastrous.
A home double header with Leicester and Everton was never going to be easy, but to lose both ahead of tomorrow’s tough trip to Arsenal was damaging. We now sit just a point above the relegation zone and two from the bottom, with 7 defeats and a draw in our last 8.
Lascelles said post-Everton that we’ve lacked leadership and communication in recent weeks and must now show ‘character’ and ‘come out of our shells’ and he’s right. It’s fight or flight now. Time for Benitez and the boys to roll up their sleeves, pull their socks up and get us back to the disciplined, functional and hard to beat team we looked in the first few months of the season. A change is needed and quickly.
Arsenal away won’t define our survival, but steadying the ship with a big performance and valuable point would go a long way to reigniting our revival.
Ritchie looked a little more like his old self against Everton. We’ll need his energy and creativity to be at its best here.Unless we go for Joselu and Gayle up top (which worked well in parts at Man Utd away), I think Perez will almost certainly return in a number 10 role. It won’t work if we go toe to toe with Arsenal and try to beat them at their own game, so Perez’s pressing and pest-like presence around the Arsenal defenders and receiving midfielders could be key to stopping them play out with ease.I’m fully expecting Joselu to return – for rotation reasons and the fact he’ll also be fresh to defend from the front. Gayle is our best finisher, so I’d like him on the pitch to gobble up and half chance we might get (as he did in similar trips to Man Utd and Chelsea recently), however he was sloppy on Wednesday and couldn’t get into the game. Whether that was mainly due to his last of support or inability to play as a lone striker is another matter, mind.
Given we were regularly linked with him in his earlier Lyon days, you just know Alexandre Lacazette could show us what we missed out on. He’s their top scorer on 8 goals and is devastating in the 18 yard box.
Sanchez and Ozil haven’t quite been at it this season, with just 6 goals between them so far, but their ability is unquestionable and they’ll almost definitely hurt us if we allow them space.
I’m not a big Xhaka fan. He can be wayward and reckless and could be a weak link to target. He can lose his head and has sometimes struggled when teams give him no time on the ball.
They’ve tended to play with wing backs this season, and we’ve tended not to cope well against that system (Watford 3-0 / Chelsea 3-1 being prime examples) so Kolasinac and Bellerin will be danger men and two to watch carefully out wide.
Newcastle – 16th (15 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 0 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 4
Arsenal – 7th – (30 pts) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 2 / Drawn: 2 / Lost: 1
Aside from Jonjo Shelvey – who will serve the first of two-game ban – Paul Dummett could be the only first team absentee, with it remaining to be seen whether he’s deemed match-fit enough for a first team return.
Aarons Ramsey and Theo Walcott have both been ruled out, but late decisions could be made on Lacazzete and Mustafi who appear to be rated ‘tough and go’ for this one.
The injury prone but in-form Jack Wilshere may be rested, with Wenger admitting that rotation is likely with four games in 9 nine days.
Newcastle XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Manquillo – Merino, Hayden – Ritchie, Perez, Murphy – Joselu
Arsenal XI – (3-4-2-1) – Cech – Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal – Bellerin, Wilshere, Xhaka, Kolasinac – Ozil, Sanchez – Lacazette.
We’ve lost 9 of our last 10 games against Arsene Wenger’s side in all comps, with the other one being a draw at St James’ Park back in 2011. Our last win at the Emirates was over 7 years ago when Andy Carroll’s header gave us a 1-0 win in 2010.
They’ve not been in the best of form, scoring just two in their last 3 league games and without and win in 3 in the league, so there’s the potential for the Emirates to become toxic if we grabbed and early goal and held it for a spell or simply kept it at 0-0.
Going in at half time in a competitive position will be key, but given their attacking talents and our current defensive frailties, that will be easier said than done.
I’m expecting (slash hoping) for a more resolute display, but I think they’ll have too much.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle
Howay the lads!