Arsenal (A): Pre-match thoughts, team news & predicted XI’s

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.

The Team

After two unconvincing displays and two costly errors in against Leicester and Everton, Darlow has to make way here. We’re not blessed with top goalkeeping options, but Elliot is our most reliable keeper (and character) to have in goal right now. Darlow seems to just go when his confidence takes a knock.
Lascelles’ return will be a real help, but he can only do so much if those around him continue to make silly mistakes. Lejeune has looked shaky recently and looked highly suspect against an Everton side that didn’t even throw much at us. I believe he’ll come good, but I’d like to see Clark back in for this one.
At full back, the return of Dummett at left back would be a real boost, but it remains to be seen if he’s ready. Given how fans have criticised him as one of our weak links in the past, this perhaps highlights just how lacking in quality we are? If he’s out, I prefer Mbemba in at left back to Manquillo, but the former wasn’t even in the squad on Wednesday so don’t bank on that.
Yedlin at right back again. He was better against Everton but he can’t afford any lapses in concentration against an Arsenal side ready to punish simple errors.
With Shelvey banned and Diame having a shocker in midweek, I can’t see anything other than a Merino-Hayden partnership. They’ll have to be at their best to protect our defence against any Mesut Ozil magic.
 Out wide I wouldn’t be surprised if Murphy is recalled to give us an option on the counter. He’s proven in recent weeks that he can run at teams and create a little bit of something from nothing. Atsu could be rested after playing the full 90 in his first game back for several weeks on Wednesday.

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.

 

The Opposition

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.

CLICK HERE for an inside look at our opponents from an Arsenal perspective in this week’s  ‘Opposition Opinion’ piece. A recommended read before tomorrow’s game.

 

Form

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

Team News

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.

 

Predicted Line-ups

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.

 

Head-to-Heads

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.

 

Match Prediction

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!

(Fancy writing for us? Send any articles/ideas over to us at NUFCblogsubmissions@gmail.com & we’ll get back to you!)

About Olly Hawkins

Olly has been a Junior Magpie from birth. As a season ticket holder and avid Newcastle United fan - he eats, sleeps and breathes all things NUFC.

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