The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Newcastle
The north east of England hits the north east of London in Monday Night Football, AKA a totally unreasonable expectation placed on fans who happen to have a job, the idiots. Hang on, haven’t we written that before?
Arsenal enter the vinegar strokes of the 2013/14 season with an exciting climax building. Fourth all but theirs after Everton’s faux pas against Crystal Palace and ahead of a tough Toffees run-in, they should be in confident spirits.
- Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Wigan 1-1p Arsenal (FAC)
- Everton 3-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-1 Man City (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-4 Man Utd (Prem)
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 Everton (Prem)
For all their spring slumps, Arsene Wenger’s men are adept at closing out a season well when they need to hold on to a Champions League place: in 2012/13 they took 26 points from the last available 30 (Tottenham only 18, which made all the difference). Ahead of a far nervier FA Cup final, Arsenal should win their remaining three league matches with ease: games against West Bromwich Albion and Norwich follow Newcastle’s visit on Monday.
For Newcastle, a seriously weird season is nearing an end. At the start of the campaign most United fans would have happily taken ninth – we asked them and everything – but such is the feeling of angry helplessness from and towards manager Alan Pardew, the downturn in form since 2013 and especially the current malaise around the club, the St James’ Park faithful are getting in a bit of a bate.
It’s understandable. Pardew’s side have lost their last five matches (12 of 17 in 2014), scoring just one goal. They’ve looked impotent without Loic Remy, who must now be reconsidering his keenness to join the club permanently, and have allowed themselves to be repeatedly swept away on home turf, going down by three or more goals no fewer than four times since the New Year fireworks. And all the while, Pardew has been quick to criticise anybody other than himself. It’s no wonder he’s become a target for fans.
This fixture has seen a few goals in recent years, even if the last two matches have finished 1-0 to the Arsenal. There was the Magpies’ sublime comeback for a 4-4 draw in February 2011, then the ridiculous 7-3 Arsenal win in December 2012 when every single shot seemed to fly in. Newcastle haven’t actually beaten the Gunners in six meetings, Andy Carroll last settling things in a 1-0 victory at the Emirates in 2010. A turnaround here would be a huge surprise.
The stunning news for Arsenal is that Abou Diaby is playing again, his knee having undergone surgery not dissimilar to Frankenstein’s monster (with similar aesthetics). The not-so-stunning news is that he's already injured again (yes, seriously), with Wenger confirming: "He had a little groin problem after the [under-21] game so will not be available on Monday." Sigh. Jack Wilshere is also out, as is Ryo ‘Oh yeah, him’ Miyaichi, but Kieran Gibbs, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Vermaelen should all be fit again.
The visitors have a few notable absentees, even with Remy back. Papiss Cisse is out for the season with a fractured patella (his kneecap’s fallen off), while Hatem Ben Arfa is recovering in France, presumably from his thigh injury rather than the nightmare of his season. Luuk de Jong is an injury doubt, Gabriel Obertan is still minus a working leg, Ryan Taylor is Ryan Taylor, and Davide Santon has a hamstring injury. Pardew is hopeful Moussa Sissoko may return from his own hamstrung hamstring, but that’s in doubt. Jordan Henderson and Chico Flores are suspended, but neither of them play for Arsenal or Newcastle, so never mind.
Player to watch: Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)
A brace in each of his last two games puts the German in unexpected territory of reaching double figures in the league this season, despite playing on the left wing, missing half of the campaign through injury and being in and out of the team since. Another couple will stretch his record of 10 or more league goals each time around to four seasons. Licence to attack against a struggling defence low on confidence? Go on then.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'castle 0-1 Arsenal (PL, Dec 13)
- N'castle 0-1 Arsenal (PL, May 13)
- Arsenal 7-3 N'castle (PL, Dec 12)
- Arsenal 2-1 N'castle (PL, Mar 12)
- N'castle 0-0 Arsenal (PL, Aug 11)
Pardew could be in trouble. With unrest in the dressing room and in the stands, and David Moyes’s availability tempting Mike Ashley, the silver fox’s fine start to the season seems like light-years ago. In his defence, Pardew hasn’t been given a permanent senior signing in more than a year, and only two players on loan, and was given no time to replace Yohan Cabaye in the winter. Newcastle’s ambition seems to be waning. But there’s no question that the team has dramatically underperformed even despite the limitations. Plus – and we can’t stress this enough – he headbutted a guy.
Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for Wenger: new contract on the table still unsigned, fourth place very much within his team’s grasp and the chance of a trophy – or the chance to mess up their best hope for a pot since the last one. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Facts and figures
- Newcastle have failed to score in 5 of their last 6 away matches.
- 7 of Arsenal’s 11 home matches against middle-third teams have produced at least 4 goals.
- 7 of Newcastle’s last 10 trips to top-six teams have seen at least 3 goals.
- Arsenal have recorded draw/win doubles in their last 4 games against Newcastle.
Arsenal have beaten Newcastle in 61 league meetings; Newcastle have beaten Arsenal in 62. Expect the Gunners to draw level. 3-0 home win.