Newcastle head to the Emirates with much to prove today. While aspirations of Champions League football are surely a pipe dream (and misguided, given the relative depth of the squad at this point), a loss today would effectively end any conversation about such a possibility. (On an aside, who would have thought these discussions would even be in play at all with 11 games to go?) More pressingly, Newcastle are in dire need to show that they have a little bit of the quality that put them out to such a great start just 7 months ago... recent results (granted it's just three matches) have been... underwhelming. A good performance against a bone fide Top-4 squad that is rounding into tremendous form would go miles towards making the Toon Army feel a little better about the final 10 matches of what has been a season that exceeded all expectations and perhaps eve all hopes of what it could have been.
The Europa League is still directly in play, and a point or three would do wonders to ensure that we stay in the driver's seat for that qualification... we are still clear of the clubs behind us by a handful of points, but you just don't want to leave it to chance.
- Robin Van Persie scores a lot... and he does it at the Emirates a lot. He has scored 21 goals in his last 20 matches at home. I think it's pretty clear that our defense is going to have to find a way to keep him in check.
- London has not been a happy place for our fearless Mags. If you need reminding, they have conceded 10 goals in their last two matches in London- scoring only twice in return. Demba Ba is going to need to be massive if we are going to have any chance of success on this trip... it doesn't matter if he or Papiss Cisse (or anyone else, for that matter) puts the ball in the net... but his hold-up play and distribution is going to be key.
- Arsenal have had to come from behind in their last three league matches (although they came back to take all three points in each). If there is a crack early on, Newcastle will need to seize the opportunity... and keep hold of it. We have lost from an early losing position in London in this calendar year...
- Many of the betting sites are favoring a 1-0 result to Arsenal... which if form holds could be a poor bet. Even just considering Arsenal's offensive output at home (they average over 2 goals per match), you'd be hard pressed to find a 1-0 result in it. Using the form book to look at the match, this looks all kinds of ugly, particularly seeing that Newcastle concede nearly 2 goals a game themselves on the road. Numbers are fun, though- if you take out the 10 goals that we've conceded in London this season, that number is cut almost completely in half. The law of averages would tell us that we won't concede 5 goals in London again, right? RIGHT?
Newcastle is going to have to come out and show better in the midfield than they have in the last three matches. Our All-Awesome center mid tandem of Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye are going to have to, to use a turn of phrase, "Get their minds right". They have not looked the top-class tandem that they looked early on this season since Tiote's return from the ACoN. If there was a better match for them to get back to that form, I certainly don't know which it would be.
Newcastle United FC
6th place 12-8-7, 44 points
Out: Steven Taylor (Achilles), Sylvain Marveaux (groin), Leon Best (knee), Sammy Ameobi (knee), Peter Lovenkrands (thigh)
Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini (C), Santon | Raylor, Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas | Ba, Cisse
Projected Subs: Elliott, Perch, Guthrie, Ferguson, Obertan, Shola, Hatem Ben Arfa
4th place 15-4-8, 49 points
Out: Diaby (hamstring), Coquelin (hamstring), Mertesacker (ankle) Wilshere (ankle)
Projected XI: Szczesny | Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs | Walcott, Song, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain | Van Persie (C), Gervinho
Projected Subs: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Santosl, Benayoun, Rosicky, Ramsey, Chamakh
What will almost certainly happen!
- Arsenal will get someone red carded. Why not? They have had one in each of the last three Arsenal/Newcastle matches. Of course, that's a lot thanks to Joey Barton who left to chase ambition.
- I will curse Mike Williamson's name at least once.
- Tim Krul will make a completely out of his gord highlight reel save from RvP
Cheik Tiote will let loose from 25 yards at least once.
I think there are going to be goals in it... just not quite as many as the numbers would suggest.
Arsenal 2 (RvP, Vermaelen) - 1 (Ba) Newcastle United