St James Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
December 30, 2013; 13:30 GMT
High flying Newcastle United host Arsenal FC on Sunday, with the Magpies on a hot streak of form, while Arsenal have a couple of players back from long term injuries. Who will triumph at St James’ Park?
While clearly the second biggest game on Sunday’s slate, Newcastle United FC and Arsenal FC does not lack importance, as it involves a team in the race for a Top 4 position, and another, whose has their eyes on the title. These teams appear much more solid defensively this season compared to seasons past. Newcastle United have adopted a much more reactive and organized approach to the game. Arsenal have not had such solidity in defense since the Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure played as Arsenal’s first choice pair. So, while fixtures between these two sides have seen eight or even ten goals fly into the back of the net, it is unlikely that another goal-fest breaks out at St. James’ Park.
While Newcastle United began the season by getting pummeled by Manchester City, in a match where the score line flattered United, they have changed their approach to a counterattacking 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 and have improved their results. This change in tactics has led to them occupying sixth place in the table at the start of this weekend, three points away from 4th placed Liverpool. They have also picked up victories against the like of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham with this style. Finally, in their last nine Premier League matches, they have won seven, drawn one, and lost one. This team should not lack confidence in their approach or form going against Arsenal at home.
Arsenal find themselves top of the league after Boxing Day with an opportunity to extend their lead at over the second placed side. With matches against Cardiff City (H), Aston Villa (A), Fulham (H), Southampton (A), and Crystal Palace (H) after their trip to Newcastle, a win in the north east could set the table for Arsenal ripping off a string of victories before they play Liverpool at Anfield. With the need for rotation, the performances of Theo Walcott, in patches, and Lukas Podolski against West Ham United give Arsene Wenger high quality and different options off the bench, at least. Against a compact and organized side like Newcastle, Arsenal may need the ability to change their method of attack in order to break down their opponent.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Newcastle United FC
Newcastle United will have Cheick Tiote back from suspension. While they did not need the combative, inconsistent midfielder in their 5-1 thrashing of Stoke City, his energy and physicality could prove vital in Alan Pardew’s plan to much up the midfield and stop Arsenal’s pass-and-move game. Alan Pardew has his full squad available to him in this match.
Pardew has used a two variations of a 4-4-2 recently. In some matches, he has played Shola Ameobi and Loic Remy up top, with Ameobi playing the role of target man and Loic Remy running at or beyond the back line. This match seems more suited to playing Yohan Cabaye with Loic Remy in more of a 4-4-1-1 variant of the 4-4-2. This allows Pardew to play three midfielders, giving him more of an ability to stifle the Arsenal attack. In either case, the front two or 1-1 will look to press Arsenal’s center backs. Getting a turnover in those areas makes it easier to get the quick and clinical Remy 1-on-1 with the keeper.
If they choose to go with the 4-4-1-1, Vurnon Anita and Cheick Tiote will play in the center of midfield. On the wings, Newcastle will likely field Yoan Gouffran on one wing and Moussa Sissoko on the other. They are willing to swap their positions and offer something different. Sissoko is more likely to move infield and his game is predicated more on his energy off the ball. Gouffran is the more player on the ball, and the more like to take a player on off the dribble. The back five will like be their typical one of Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson in central defense, Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy at left and right back respectively, with Tim Krul in goal.
While Newcastle have shown their worth as a counter-attacking side, they have not shown much an ability to play a proactive style this season. So while they will set up to stifle central midfield, rely on Cabaye’s skill to launch counter-attacks and make the most of set-piece opportunities, and hope to get Remy a few chances to get behind the defense, conceding the first goal would ruin their entire plan for the match. It is vital that Newcastle never go behind the Gunners, or it could be a long day for them.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Krul (GK), Santon, Coloccini, Williamson, Debuchy, Anita, Tiote, Gouffran, Sissoko, Cabaye, Remy
Unlike Newcastle United, Arsenal do not have their full squad available to them. Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Abou Diaby remain out. Aaron Ramsey suffered a thigh strain in the match against West Ham United and looks to be out for at least the rest of the festive period. Laurent Koscielny could make his return from a laceration on his knee. This would be a much needed spot of health for Arsenal, as Koscielny is the better defender than Thomas Vermaelen, particularly against quick players like Loic Remy. Another bit of good news for Arsenal is that Jack Wilshere will return after serving a two-game ban for a rude gesture he made to Manchester City fans.
Arsenal will likely continue with their asymmetric 4-2-3-1. However, given the potential need to rotate players and the fact that Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere have been rested, it could be that Wenger makes some changes to the side. The back five will be Wojciech Szczesny in goal, Bacary Sagna at right-back, Kieran Gibbs at left-back, Per Mertesacker, and either Thomas Vermaelen or Laurent Koscielny.
Without Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal has two options at the base of midfield. He can field both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, or he can play Jack Wilshere and Flamini. Arteta should not play with Wilshere given the lack of defensive work Jack Wilshere does compared to Aaron Ramsey. That could lead Arteta too exposed. Santi Cazorla’s performance against West Ham United should give Wenger confidence that the Spaniard is starting to find some the form that marker the start of his Arsenal career. This would give him the ability to sit Mesut Ozil.
Theo Walcott will like play a wide right and high role in the Arsenal attacking front. Given the fact that Rosicky did not play in the West Ham United game, Wenger could probably place him in that left-sided role with license to come infield. Given the quality of this Newcastle side, Olivier Giroud may get the start, with an eye on resting him against Cardiff City.
While the threat of Loic Remy getting behind the defense is one to worry about, Arsenal can do themselves a world of good if they avoid fouling Newcastle in areas that produce good set-piece opportunities. This prevents Yohan Cabaye from being able to use his skill with no pressure. Also, Arsenal should look to fly out of the gates in search of that first goal. They have been sluggish at the start of their most recent fixtures, and they will do well to break that trend this Sunday.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK), Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna, Flamini, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud
- Arsenal have only lost once at St. James’ Park in their last 12 matches, winning four and drawing seven.
- Yoan Gouffran has scored in each of the past five home matches Newcastle United have had in the English Premier League.
- Olivier Giroud has only scored one of his 18 goals in the English Premier League outside of London.
Statistics courtesy FourFourTwo
Player to Watch Out For
Loic Remy (Newcastle United)
Newcastle’s Loic Remy has scored ten goals for the Magpies and plays a crucial part in their counter-attacking system. His pace, finishing, and dribbling will put pressure on the Arsenal back four. In particular, he could be dangerous drifting out to the left, occupying the space left by the opponent’s right-back. Arsenal’s defense has done well against the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez, and Romelu Lukaku. They will need to put in another quality performance against Remy if they wish to grab all three points.
Newcastle United 0 – 2 Arsenal FC
In the end, this match likely comes down to who scores first. Even with the potential rotation, Arsenal have the quality to control the match and score that critical first goal. As long as they do remained disciplined and keep their concentration defensively, Newcastle will struggle to score, as is the case with sides that rely on their opponent’s to make mistakes.
Blast from the Past