So where is this game? I’m certain Newcastle will look to get the ball forward quickly, using Trippier for width down the right and trying to create confusion in the Arsenal defence. Arsenal, on the other hand, will be looking for Odegaard to pick holes with Saka and Martinelli pulling their full-backs out of position.The more I think about it, the more I fancy the home side.
Elsewhere, needing a win to secure the title, Celtic have just scored a second goal at 10-man Hearts. Rangers, meanwhile, are drawing 0-0 with Aberdeen at half-time.
Gary Neville disagrees with my preamble, saying that Arsenal have “gone under a little bit” when conceding big goals in big games. I guess it’s hard to argue with that, but I also think that complacency led to those concessions.
You’ve got to laugh. William Gallas has just sagely advised Gabriel to be a leader.
I should note that Allan Saint-Maximin is on the Newcastle bench today after a(nother) month out injured. Arsenal have looked vulnerable down their right-hand side recently, and i’d not be surprised to see him given half an hour to get after it.
We’re watching a little run-through of Arsenal’s various title wins and I still can’t get my head around what happened in 1989, the greatest end to a season I’ve ever seen – it beats Man City and Agüero in 2012 because it had rivals in direct competition.
I am, though, a little surprised Arteta has gone for Jorginho not Partey. Presumably he was happy with how the former played in midweek – and perhaps disappointed with the latter’s recent form – but the kind of physical challenge posed by Newcastle will be tough for the Italian. Perhaps the idea is that his calmness in possession slows things down, but I’d not back him on the ball with Isak, Willock and Wilson charging about.
I guess Newcastle might play a 4-4-2 with Wilson and Isak up front as a pair. That would be very interesting to see and a proper test for Jakub Kiwior, making just his second league start for Arsenal. I do wonder, though, if that might leave them short in midfield – I guess they’d keep Joelinton, Willock and Guimarãs very narrow, with Murphy left to supply width.
“Feels like an amazing atmosphere already and there’s only a few people in,” Eddie Howe tells Sky. He wants the crowd to get involved and is starting Wilson and Isak together for lots of reasons. Sean Longstaff’s injury partially forced his hand, but he’s looking forward to seeing how they impose their physicality on proceedings. Shay Given says he went to training this week and was impressed by the spirit; Howe replies that bringing him in helped fortify the connection between the players and the club’s past.
We’ll chat them through presently, but Mikel Areteta is talking to Sky. He’s really happy Gabriel is fully fit, calling him an important player, and his gameplan means he’s gone for Jorginho not Thomas Partey – noting that every time he has to pick a team it’s difficult. He always adapts to what the opposition do, so has planned for Newcastle in terms of what he’s asking his defenders to do, and is really pleased with Aaron Ramsdale’s growing maturity, saying he reads the game much better than before. His players have been at it for 10 months now and, though the aim was top four, they now need to “keep digging”. He’s spoken to his players about their capitulation at SJP last term, saying “football is full of opportunities and they have a beautiful one”.
Let’s have some teams!
Newcastle United: (a potential 4-2-3-1): Pope; Trippier, Botman, Schar, Burn; Joelinton, Willock; Murphy, Guimaraes, Isak; Wilson. Subs: Dubravka, Dummett, Gordon, Saint-Maximin, Lewis, Targett, Manquillo, Almiron, Anderson.
Arsenal (an implacable 4-3-3): Ramsdale; White, Gabriel, Kiwior, Zinchenko; Jorginho, Odegaard, Xhaka; Saka, Jesus, Martinelli. Subs: Turner, Tierney, Partey, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Holding, Trossard, Vieira, Nelson.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Ashton-under Lyne)
Little under a year ago, these sides met at this venue with Newcastle – recently safe from relegation – disbursing a tousing that near-enough ended Arsenal’s Champions League hopes. So what’s changed since then? Well, a lot … but also not a lot.
To take Newcastle first, the indecent brutality of their performance that night remains the pro forma for everything they do – they repeated it in August’s thunderous 3-3 draw with Man City, still one of the games of the season – but there’s greater confidence and quality about them now. They still enjoy winning like a team unaccustomed to it – see the photos posted on social media after every positive result – but they now expect to be posing and rightly so. Eddie Howe has drilled the meanest defence in the Premier League – 27 goals conceded all season – and though they need to score more, there’s the sense that an improvement is well within their ambit given the age of their attacking players and ability to sign reinforcements in the summer.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have delivered a season way beyond what anyone expected of them. Helped by a favourable start which allowed them to build momentum, the consistency of their work before the World Cup was almost unprecedented and underpinned by a work ethic that had opponents struggling for air.
But again, though, they’ve faltered when it really got on top and must surely win today to maintain their dim prospects of a first league title since 2003-04. It’s easy to say they’ve bottled it again, a narrative that’s dogged the club for the best part of two decades, but the reality is less facile that that. In consecutive draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton it felt like it was conceit rather than fear that did for them: first, they overestimated their reliability of their defence, backing themselves to see out a narrow advantage because they thought they could; then, they relaxed when in charge of a game, thereby inviting their opponents back into it; and finally started in the manner of team convinced victory was there for them and if they were good enough to turn up.
So now what? Well, Arsenal really need three points not so much to prolong the fanciful notion that the title race is still in progress, but to prove to themselves that they can beat a side of Newcastle’s calibre when they really have to. Should they fail, their run-in will show one win in six league games – a collapse by any standard, leaving lesions that may never heal. They know the chance offered to them this season – Pep Guardiola devising a new style, Jürgen Klopp building and Erik ten Hag settling – is unlikely to repeat next, and while they’ll doubtless back themselves to improve, there’ll be plenty of pain to process first. This is going to be intense!
Kick-off: 4.30pm BST