Every game in the Premier League is a big game, but that’s truer than ever this season.
Tonight’s encounter with Newcastle is a first-versus-third game and there’s more at stake than extending an advantage over a close challenger. If Arsenal take three points later, we would be 12 points clear of tonight’s opponents and 10 points clear of Man City, who only play Chelsea on Thursday.
This is opportunity writ large. With that comes some pressure, but so far this season this side has responded well to these types of scenarios. When City have lost points there is extra pressure because of what it means and we’ve dealt with that. When City have closed the gap there is extra pressure because everyone sees them as favorites and we dealt with that. This is a bit different, but make no mistake, the manager and players know how much there is to play for.
In terms of our own team, I don’t expect anything different than the starting XI Mikel Arteta fielded against Brighton. The full-back substitutions he made in 60 minutes of that game caused us a bit of instability but I think they were made for tonight. Similarly, Thomas Partey, who was withdrawn immediately after going 4-1, told you it was about managing minutes for key players.
The sight of Emile Smith Rowe in full training is very welcome and hopefully he’s ready enough to come on the bench. It’s clear we’re still missing some depth, but adding last season’s second-highest goalscorer to the squad will give us a little more of that. It remains to be seen how quickly he will rev up this season after just 47 minutes of first-team football.
As for Newcastle, they arrive tonight with the best defensive record in the Premier League and we know they will be a tough nut to crack. I think it’s fair to say Eddie Howe has done a very good job since taking charge and like any manager has spent money improving their squad. It’s just that the origin of that money is different and we shouldn’t ignore that. I think we are on the verge of an era where a club like Newcastle will transform into something else. Think of the animosity you have with Chelsea or even Man City, whose facade of sleek, ultra-professional style is just a facade for something else.
We’re not there yet with Newcastle, but it’s coming. There’s something inevitable about that. It cannot be otherwise. They will delve deep into the Saudi Public Investment Fund to spend big and in the process they will skew and skew the market for everyone else. Most of their fans won’t care but this is a club that will try to become the PSG of England. These are no brave underdogs with an innocent fresh-faced English manager. The sooner attitudes towards them change, the better.
I don’t think that’s going to be part of Mikel Arteta’s team talk tonight, but if it can add to the atmosphere here, all the better. I hope there is a feeling within the team that we need to fix the game at St James’ Park last season. That hurt and while it was mainly because we ran out of fuel and fit players at the end of the season, Arteta’s anger was evident in All or Nothing afterwards. Then when it has stung, it will be something he has not forgotten.
The Brighton game made us wobble a bit in the second half. Hopefully it’s the perfect scenario where the troubles you’re having don’t cost you points because you’ve done other things well. I suspect the game will be pretty close tonight. I doubt we’ll have four goals to make up for any defensive mistakes, so it’s important that we tighten up. Newcastle will be energetic and push high; We have to say exactly how we deal with it. If so, then as the last two games have shown, we have a side that can really exploit space ruthlessly and we have a back four that are out for goals.
For more information on this topic and a wider discussion of the Norwegians from the Premier League, watch the preview podcast on Patreon.
As always, we have live blog coverage of the game for you and all post-game stuff over at Arseblog News. Until then.
Come on, you reds!