Newcastle v Arsenal
St. James Park
Kick off: March 21st, 2015 1500 GMT
After our heroic yet Pyrrhic victory in Monaco we return to our domestic obligations. At this point, we are still in the race for both remaining English trophies – we will play in the FA Cup semifinals and, even if our odds to win the league aren’t best available, we still haven’t had our final word on that matter.
In order to stay in the mix we have to beat teams like our next opponents. With all due respect to Newcastle United, especially because they had ended Mourinho’s dreams of repeating the feat of The Invincibles, they’ve been the most desirable opponents at this stage of the season for three years in a row. There is an established pattern in their last three league campaigns – they fly high in the first part of the season and look good enough to battle for European places but after they realize it’s just a remote possibility and that they can’t get into a relegation battle either, they lose motivation and look terrible on the pitch. Things haven’t gone in their favour since the departure of Alan Pardew and it’s hard to find a team that looks more beatable than The Magpies.
And, like John Carver doesn’t have enough problems with number of injuries, their best defender (Coloccini) and the best striker (Cisse) are out for this game as well.
We have enjoyed playing against Newcastle lately and some match facts speak for themselves:
1) We haven’t lost the last eight games against the Magpies in the league,
2) We have won the last six including two narrow victories at St James Park,
3) We haven’t conceded a goal in this fixture since 2010-11 and the last player to score for Newcastle against Arsenal at St James Park, Cheick Tiote, is also out for this game due to injury and
4) Olivier Giroud is especially inspired against Newcastle – the French striker has scored six goals in five appearances against Newcastle including the winning header in this fixture last term.
Our form of late has been quite good. We’ve won five in a row in the league and beaten Manchester United and Monaco away in other competitions. If there is a bad thing, our conversion rate can be better – we could have scored more goals – and that dip at the beginning of the second half shouldn’t happen that often.
We need a victory against Newcastle in order to keep the gap wide between us and North-Western rivals Manchester United and Liverpool, especially because they play each other at Anfield on Sunday. If we beat Newcastle, we can watch the game between our rivals with no stress. And, if our old “pal” Tony Pulis does us a favour at the Etihad similar to the one from last season when his Crystal Palace won the game at Goodison Park, we can even leapfrog Manchester City to second place.
Our team for today’s game will probably go through some rotation as Arsene Wenger has mentioned that we gave everything in Monaco.
David Ospina should be safe between the sticks though. If things go as usual, he’ll keep a clean sheet, fall to the ground after an aerial duel and lie in pain for a minute or two before getting up, make a clearance or two and offer not-so-great distribution of the ball.
Hector Bellerin might get some rest in favour of Calum Chambers on the right full-back position.
Nacho Monreal or Kieran Gibbs? It’s difficult to say as Nacho has been brilliant lately while Gibbs adds more width to our attack and this might be a game where Gibbs’ forward runs won’t get us into trouble at the back.
Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny might get a chance to keep another clean sheet together. Per Mertesacker didn’t look too good against West Ham. Then again, Gabriel’s inclusion in the first team might require Bellerin’s and/or Monreal’s too in order to avoid a language barrier.
Francis Coquelin looks like a safe bet for our shield in the middle. He should be careful with his tackling though – if he gets a red card, he will miss our big match against Liverpool after the international break.
Aaron Ramsey’s form is going up and his two goals in the last two matches suggest he should start against The Magpies. That leaves one more spot in the middle – Santi Cazorla or Mesut Özil? Özil has been excellent lately while Cazorla had a successful cameo against West Ham so Wenger might go for the same option again. Tomas Rosicky is also an option but he’s only just returned after an illness.
Theo Walcott looks like a safe option for the right wing. He needs goals to shake off the rustiness but his finishing has let him down lately.
Alexis Sánchez hasn’t been banging goals for fun lately but his ability to keep the opponents’ right full-back on the back foot, incredible work-rate and creativity make him an indispensable member of our first eleven. If we had played Liverpool next week, I would have suggested a rest for him.
Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck to lead the line? Wenger has pointed out how much our attack gave against Monaco and given that Giroud played the whole game, he might go with Welbeck. Then again, Giroud has been brilliant this season scoring 15 goals in 25 appearances including two goals in the reverse fixture.
We shouldn’t expect a walk in the park today but we look really, really good. A 3:0 victory for us with goals from Walcott, Özil and Giroud.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 13 Dec 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Newcastle 1
Premier League (EPL) 29 Apr 2014 Arsenal FC 3 – Newcastle 0
Premier League (EPL) 29 Dec 2013 Newcastle 0 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 19 May 2013 Newcastle 0– Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 29 Dec 2012 Arsenal FC 7 – Newcastle 3
Chambers Gabriel Koscielny (c) Gibbs
Walcott Giroud Alexis
Newcastle 0 v 3 Arsenal