The usual five talking points ahead of tonight’s Premier League game at home to Newcastle.
It’s been a long time
International breaks are bad enough, but combined with the quirk of Arsenal’s scheduled away match against Wolves being postponed due to the FA Cup and the Gunners have not kicked a ball in anger for over two and half weeks. I’m not counting the jolly in Dubai, a runout for the youngsters and the players not on international duty. The challenge this evening will be to get momentum going again. Since the expected defeat at the Etihad, the Gunners have taken 13 points out of 15 in the League, which would have been 15 but for that penalty miss in the North London derby. Let’s hope the break does not affect that excellent and well-timed run
Home is where the strength is
Once again, we use a defeat against Manchester City as the marker for the beginning of a run, this one regarding the Gunners’ home form. In the 15 matches since they have won 13 and drawn 2 – with wins over Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester United potentially highly significant in their hunt for a top four place. Given the nature of that battle, if Arsenal fail to win all three of their remaining home games, they are likely to be playing Europa League next season. And frankly, if they cannot see off the combined might of Newcastle, Palace and Brighton at the Emirates, that’s probably what they deserve. These three are must wins to give them any chance, given the other five fixtures are away to decent opposition.
It was interesting to hear the now-confirmed full time Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer refer to his team needing 15 more points after their win against Watford on Saturday. Because it tallied with what I have been saying for weeks. 76 points will secure 4th place. United are now on 61, as are Spurs. Now, I can quite happily live with United getting 76 points as long as Arsenal have one more. Even if both sides get 76, they should occupy third and fourth place, with goal difference dividing them. Should Arsenal win their three home games, they will have 69 points in the bag. Seven required from the visits to Everton, Watford, Wolves, Leicester and Burnley. The cover of the new issue of The Gooner has the headline ‘Hold On Tight’. God, after all those years of yawning at the fourth place trophy under Arsene, it’s an interesting turn of events that now, this feels like tension city. Football, eh?
Is there any point in attempting to second guess Unai Emery? Sometimes I think Arsenal should run a lottery where fans try to predict his starting eleven. Anyway, it’s all good fun, so here goes. Newcastle will be playing a pretty defensive game, happy to finish proceedings with a point. So, I see a 4-2-3-1 with both full backs bombing on. This way, Emery can play both Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil. So: Leno – Maitland-Niles / Sokratis / Koscielny / Kolasinac – Ramsey / Xhaka – Aubameyang / Ozil / Mkhitaryan – Lacazette. It’s possible that Iwobi might start instead of Aubameyang, but with no midweek game, there’s not requirement to rest anyone. Torreira is suspended and because Monreal is coming back from an injury, if Emery does not play three at the back, I can see him being sacrificed, due to Kolasinac’s greater ability to overlap at pace.
A word for the opposition
One should never underestimate the ability of a Rafa Benitez team to make life awkward, especially on the road. Their belligerence is demonstrated by the stat that in 15 away matches this season, they have lost six. That’s only one worse than Arsenal. Still, of the nine undefeated trips, seven of those have been draws. Yes, you can see where this is heading. It’s bus parking time. Arsenal need to score as early as possible, so as to open up the game and then make life comfortable with another goal or two, all the while ensuring the opposition do not get easy chances to score due to a lack of defensive basics. Hmmm…
The task of Arsenal’s making the top four has in reality come down to this. If I predict they will win any game, I will jinx it. Yup, good old stupid football superstition. So people, I am willing to sacrifice any shred of credibility that I might have remaining and go for the Toon frustrating Arsenal. This has 0-0 written all over it. There, hope that suffices for you.
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