Emirates Stadium, London
April 28, 2014; 20:00 BST
Arsenal and Newcastle face off in the battle of the 2 most fizzed out teams of the year. Both teams had a brilliant first half of the season but couldn’t continue the form into the new year. However the home side have shown signs of recovery and have set a date to end their trophyless run, when they play Hull City at Wembley in May. With some long term injury absentees returning back from injury, the Gunners’ league performances have shown drastic improvement and could ensure that they finish the season on a high. Newcastle on the other hand seem to have run out of gas and ideas. Losing 5 out of the last 6 games, Alan Pardew’s men look to be in free fall. Still holding onto their 9th place in the table, it will come as no surprise if they end up in the bottom half of the table.
The Gunners have started to turn a corner themselves following a drubbing at the hands of Everton only 3 weeks back, but now look favourites for their coveted fourth spot. With a good home form to boast the Gunners go into the game as favourites and there is a good chance Alan Pardew might set his team up in order to contain the home side rather than have much of an attacking impetus of their own. Cabaye’s departure has hurt the Tyneside club in much the same way as Ramsey’s injury catapulted Arsenal’ season. While the latter will be in action on Monday night, the former’s absence will still be felt by the travelling side.
Team news and tactics
Arsene Wenger’s side have had over a week to prepare for the visit of 9th placed Newcastle and the injury front has been a lot more positive in recent weeks with key players starting to return back to first team action. For Monday night, Thomas Vermaelen will undergo a late fitness test as he hopes to recover from his hamstring issues. Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry remain out while Abou Diaby who played his first competitive match in over a year will not be in contention after suffering fatigue and clearly lacking match fitness. Kierran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere continue to regain fitness and might be fit for the game against West Brom next weekend. Other than that there are no new injuries reported and Arsene Wenger is expected to field a similar starting lineup to the one that beat Hull 3-0 at the KC stadium.
It’s amazing how much difference confidence makes to a side. Just 2 weeks back Arsenal were struggling to beat Wigan in the semis of the FA Cup and here they are hoping to finish the season strongly, thus confirming Champions League status for another season. Picking a starting eleven has also become an easier task for the gaffer with the return of Ozil and Ramsey, who naturally warrant automatic starting spots unless of course the manager thinks they need to be utilized more judiciously with the cup final scheduled in 3 weeks’ time.
Mikel Arteta has looked much more at ease alongside Aaron Ramsey than with anyone else in a tiresome and forgetful season for the former Everton man. and the duo will be starting again in a midfield pivot looking to retain the ball better and thwart any breaks that Newcastle create. Ozil and Cazorla have hardly played in sync this season and with 3 games to go in the league Arsene Wenger would be hoping his 2 primary playmakers are able to develop a good relationship on the pitch, for the team to reap it’s benefits next season. The duo would be however up against Tiote, Anita and Gosling, none of whom are the quickest and thus could provide the perfect platform for the Arsenal mids to play a high tempo, quick passing game with Ramsey running in from deep to add a body in attack. In terms of defending it’s Arsenal’s left wing that doesn’t look particularly strong and Podolski will need to show a good work rate as he has done in the past 2-3 matches, to avoid any defensive lapses. Mathieu Flamini and Vermaelen will start on the bench providing cover in case the Gunners need to defend a lead. Sanogo, Chamberlain and Rosicky will serve as the attacking options off the bench.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny(GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Ramsey; Cazorla, Ozil, Podolski; Giroud
Alan Pardew has some positive team news ahead of the Toons’ testing trip to North London. Midfielder Moussa Sissoko is back in training and is straight back in the selection mix. However that positive news could be marred by the fact that strikers Luuk de Jong and Pappiss Cisse will continue to serve their spells on the sidelines. Ben Arfa will continue to be missing with a dead leg while Santon’s hamstring injuries will keep him out of this one. Other than that long term injuries to Obertan and Ryan Taylor mean, the duo will be nowhere near contention for the game. Remy and Debuchy who both started from the bench against Swansea look sharp enough to earn their starting berths.
Newcastle and Alan Pardew have completely lost the plot in the past month and half and the results are proof of that. From being genuine Europa League spot contenders just a month or so back Newcastle find themselves languishing in midtable with nothing to aim for. On Monday night Pardew would like to chop and change from the side that started in the defeat to Swansea. Luuk de Jong, Ameobi and Cisse will give way to Debuchy, Sissoko, and Remy as Newcastle would look to shore up their defence and tighten few screws in midfield.
Anita Gosling and Tiote will start in a 3 man midfield for the Magpies with the specific intention to not allow Arsenal to settle on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game. With Cazorla Ozil and Ramsey in the side, the Gunners might run rings around the Newcastle midfield and hence Pardew is likely to opt for a tight midfield that can harass the home side and disrupt any tempo they develop. The main area of concern however is the lack of goals scored. 2 goals scored in the past 7 games is as poor as relegation form and the fact that Newcastle had a strong 2013 has compensated for the sudden form vacuum but fact remains that their strikers must start scoring before Stoke and Palace catch up for a precious 9th place finish.
The attack will be boosted by the returns of Sissoko and Remy, who would look to get back their goalscoring touch from the turn of the year. Sissoko especially would be fancying his chances coming up against Arsenal’s weak link in Monreal and with Debuchy helping him out there is a good chance that Newcastle’s best chances would come from the right hand side.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Krul (GK); Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Dummet; Sissoko, Anita, Tiote, Gouffran, Gosling; Remy
Players to watch-out for
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
The Welsh midfielder is back and how. Last weekend almost summed up what Arsenal were missing for major chunks of this season and why their season collapsed the way it did. Aaron Ramsey. The runs from midfield were back, the fluidity of the midfield was back and the Arsenal of the first half of the season was back. Ramsey adds another much needed dimension to the Arsenal attack and that is exactly what has been missing in the team for the past 3 months. Against Newcastle, the Welshman will be starting a home game for the first time since the 0-0 draw against Chelsea and he would do his best to leave a mark on the game.