Newcastle Preview: Mind The Gap
The weekend’s football turned out quite nicely for Arsenal. Whilst it seems premature to write off a team on the basis of a ten point gap, the number of teams involved in the race for Champions League qualification seems to have reduced by one with Liverpool’s defeat. An eight point deficit will exist to Newcastle in the event of an Arsenal win this evening; motivation enough.
We are nine days shy of being three years since Arsenal last defeated Newcastle in a Premier League fixture, 3 – 1 at St James Park. The three goalscorers that day were Bendtner, Diaby and Nasri. How times have changed; of the starting line-up that day only Sagna, Diaby and van Persie are anywhere near the first team now whilst Gibbs, Djourou and Song were on the bench. The change at Newcastle is more profound; Michael Owen was a 65th minute substitute.
Tonight is about now, seizing the opportunities presented. The win over Milan a week ago maintained the winning momentum which had been built up in previous Premier League games, even before you start to think about how well the team played that evening. Newcastle present a different challenge, capable of expansive football but ultimately they are a Pardew team and will seek to stifle Arsenal.
They have outperformed expectations looking set for a top six place whilst hoping that Chelsea or Spurs win the FA Cup to free up a further Europa League spot. A win for them tonight would boost their chances of a top five finish which surely means they will offer more than his teams have in the past.
Injury news is good which means Arsène is able to rotate, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems most likely to drop to the bench based on comments made recently by the manager,
The problem when you have a talented player like that is that everybody wants him to play every single game. If you do that then he will be injured
Experience shows how costly that can be; Jack Wilshere is estimated to return by the end of the season although you wonder if the lengthy absence will keep him out of Euro2012. Not that I am complaining if he or Oxlade-Chamberlain do not make the final squad for England; a rest through the Summer will be beneficial to Arsenal.
This evening though I am expecting him to make way in the starting line-up for Gervinho. Whether Yossi Benayoun is fit or not is unclear but certainly there is no case for dropping Tomas Rosicky based on current form. He has been sparkling in the recent games he has played; is it coincidence that he has been playing centrally, the position in which he built his reputation.
The line-up I expect is,
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Arteta, Rosicky; Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho
A win will increase the pressure on Spurs in the upcoming fixtures, as well as boosting the Arsenal. It would also put a positive spin on news, The Heil has claimed this morning that the deal to secure Lukas Podolskis’s services at the season’s end has been agreed with 1FC Köln. The transfer will be announced come May. Perhaps it will be part of a glut that means all business – or the majority of it – is completed before a ball is kicked in anger at Euro2012.
But for today, a win will do. Matching the one at Arsenal On This Day would go some way to making up for having a Monday night kick-off. Is this the domestic equivalent of Thursday night Europa League football?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.