This week Newcastle United FC welcome Arsenal FC into St James' Park for the return match of the one in November at Emirates that cost them all three points to the newly promoted Magpies. We're hoping for more of the same, but it's tough to remain confident coming off the sale of Andy Carroll, and if the match at Fulham proved anything at all it was that this Magpies side is going to struggle to score. Let's sort some stuff out after the jump and see if we can't paint a brighter picture of our chances today.
We may struggle to score until our three existing striker can figure a few things out, but what won the match at Emirates for us was not our unstoppable offense was it? No, our staunch defense won that one for us, and if we have a chance in this one it will be on their backs again, which leaves a little more confident than most. One thing that doesn't need fixing on this particular Newcastle side is defense. It could stand to have a bit of back up brought in, but that's a conversation for another time.
The last time against Arsenal we deployed a very effective "bend but don't break" style, and it frustrated their attack for the full 90 minutes. In fact only three other teams held the Gunners to clean sheets in this Premiership season: Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United. That puts our defense in pretty prestigious company (as long as we're facing Arsenal). I wanted make sure everyone knew how I felt about our defense, all that said, there is another side to the coin.
That Arsenal loss ended their nine season unbeaten streak against NUFC, and it was the first time that Newcastle had ever won at Emirates. That must add up to a pretty big chip, and I expected to be on the shoulder of the Arsenal side. Our SBN cohort over at The Short Fuse tells us that we shouldn't expect a stylistic change, but I would be very surprised indeed if that Gunners team doesn't come in here, well, guns blazing, if I may. That scares me. This is one of the best sides in the premiership, and now they're pissed off.
Keys to Victory:
To be blunt we have one chance at three points, and I think I've said as much, but defense is the only way we win this game. If Arsenal scores first the game will be over. We have to eek out a goal before they do, and the best way to do that is to make sure they never do.
To our best chance at a goal will be to run an effective counter attack. I can envision us scoring, but only in a counter punch situation. I do think this striker core can still be legit, but they have got some stuff to sort out before that fact is verifiable.
Our second best chance is to capitalize on our set pieces. As our commenter friend Roa admitted, one of Wojciech Szczesny's main weaknesses is set pieces. He's avoided a howler thus far; maybe today will be the day.
Dangers for Defeat:
We need to play a very precise game, and I'm not sure that in our current state we can. Even to force the draw we will have to control the ball very well and defend with few mistakes. We'll see what effect Pardew will have had on the team since Wednesday.
Prediction: NUFC 0-2 AFC
Howay the Lads!