With the international break done and dusted, the Gunners resume their Premier League campaign with a difficult away trip to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle United, who are in the drop zone with a solitary point after four match days.
With two wins and six points from four games, Unai Emery’s men will be looking to keep the momentum upwards with a win against the Magpies, who have crashed out of the League Cup with a defeat to Nottingham Forest.
With no fresh injury concerns and the key players, at his disposal, fit and firing, Emery will be looking to make it three wins a row. However, St. James’ park hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Gunners and Rafa Benitez would be looking at inflicting more misery on the Emirates outfit.
Here are the three factors that are going to decide the outcome of the game.
#3 An early goal
For more than two decades, the Gunners have played aesthetically sublime and attack-minded football with an emphasis on passing and penetrative play. They employ a high line with the defence stationed close to the centre circle and attack with fervour.
The problem with this sort of approach is the sheer restlessness on the part of the attackers when they don’t see much of the ball. The teams that they usually play against employ defensive tactics with all their outfield players defending and relying on counter attacks.
The Magpies have a solitary point from their first four games and they will be more than happy to get a point from the game as it will take them above the drop zone. Rafa Benitez’s men will be defending in numbers throughout the game unless the Gunners score quickly.
An early goal by the Arsenal, given their attacking prowess with the likes of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Ozil in their ranks, will result in the Magpies chasing the game which will free up the Gunners’ attacking players such and let them play their natural game and if the Magpies score first, the Arsenal faithful are set for a long and frustrating evening.
#2 Jonjo Shelvey
Jonjo Shelvey is an enigma. Gifted with an immaculate passing technique, the ex- Liverpool and Swansea man’s game often oscillates between sublime and ridiculous. As a player who is one of the most gifted long-range passers in the Premier League, Shelvey is a player to watch out for.
The English midfielder, if fit, will start alongside Mo Diame and will test the nervy Arsenal defence with his passing range and incisive play. If he is in his element, he would cause all sorts of problems to the Gunners from the deep, particularly on the counter.
#1 The Gunners’ midfield
The Arsenal have stuck with the same midfield personnel for the first four games of the season with Guendouzi and Xhaka given the starts as the deep-lying duo. While Xhaka’s performances have been hot and cold so far, Guendouzi impressed the Gunners faithful with his tenacity and fearless approach.
There have been calls for Emery to drop Xhaka and give Lucas Torreira, who was impressive whenever called upon from the bench, a start. However, the head coach might persist with Xhaka given his ability to dictate the play from the deep. With his penetrative passing range and ability to control the play from the deep, Xhaka will be vital against Newcastle, who play with 5 at the back. Torreira will be tasked to add steel to the back four.
The Magpies will try to suffocate the Arsenal attackers by doubling on them. The Gunners’ attack goes AWOL when they don’t see the ball often and for Arsenal to have any sort of impact in the final third of the play, the midfield duo of Xhaka and Torreira have to find the attackers constantly and in spaces where they can do maximum damage.
With Solomon Rondon leading the line and Kennedy and Murphy on the wings, he has plenty of willing runners to aim for with long diagonal balls and cause plenty of problems.
The Gunners need one of the midfielders to keep an eye on the enigmatic Shelvey and reduce his influence on the game.