Arsenal kickstart the defence of their FA Cup crown on Saturday, when they will play hosts to Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium.
Last season, Arsenal had raised a lot of eyebrows with performances in the FA Cup. A Mikel Arteta-led squad beat the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea on their way to securing the coveted trophy, with the Spaniard even making history by becoming the first footballer to win the FA Cup both as a player and as a manager.
Things have been quite different this season, however, with Arteta’s job even coming under heavy scrutiny following a disastrous start to the Premier League campaign that saw Arsenal being shockingly involved in the relegation scrap.
Fortunately for the Gunners, a run of three back-to-back wins in the league has gone a long way in helping them recover, meaning they are now heading into their third Round FA Cup fixture against Newcastle United full of confidence. Arsenal can even be deemed as undisputed favourites, especially considering their opponents’ poor run of form.
The Magpies have indeed failed to register a single win in all competitions since their 2-1 triumph over relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion back in early December. Incidentally, Arsenal’s last victory has also come against the Baggies, with the Gunners securing a convincing 4-0 success over Sam Allardyce’s men last weekend.
However, past records or form rarely matter in these cup fixtures and here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two teams ahead of their FA Cup meeting on Saturday.
Tactics & Team News
It remains unclear whether Mikel Arteta would want to make the usual rotations as he has done in cup matches this season. But following an underwhelming season in the Premier League, defending the FA Cup title remains the best option for the Gunners to secure European football next season.
Yet, it won’t be surprising to see Arteta resting some of his key players due to the congested schedule during the first half of the campaign. Cedric Soares and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are likely to come into the side, along with David Luiz in defence. Gabriel Magalhaes is also in contention after recovering from the coronavirus, but his fitness remains an issue. Hence, we might see Shkodran Mustafi get a rare opportunity on Saturday.
Further changes are expected in midfield, where Mohamed Elneny is set to replace Granit Xhaka. He will, thus, feature alongside Dani Ceballos in the double pivot. As for Thomas Partey, there is a chance that he may make his comeback after yet another spell on the sidelines, although the Ghanaian is unlikely to be given a start.
Emile Smith Rowe, meanwhile, has started in each of Arsenal’s last three matches and would understandably require a breather on Saturday, with Arteta keeping an eye on next week’s fixture against Crystal Palace. In his stead, we might see Joe Willock making a comeback into the starting eleven.
The Englishman could join Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli in Arsenal’s creative trifecta that will look to provide support for Alexandre Lacazette. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eddie Nketiah are other attacking options Arteta could utilise this weekend.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Cedric, Mustafi, Luiz, Maitland-Niles; Elneny, Ceballos; Pepe, Willock, Martinelli; Lacazette
For Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce, the FA Cup serves as an opportunity to redeem himself following a difficult start to the campaign. A win against the in-form Arsenal, in particular, could serve as a major boost for his team. But, at the same time, the ex-Hull City boss will have an eye on the Monday night clash against Sheffield United, where the Magpies must secure a victory.
Therefore, it won’t be surprising to see Bruce make rest some of his key players on Saturday. Starting in goal, we might see Martin Dubravka make his much-awaited return to the field at the expense of Karl Darlow. In addition, we expect Paul Dummett and Javier Manquillo to be recalled along with Thomas Krafth, although he may not start if Jamal Lewis recovers from his knee injury in time.
In the midfield unit, Newcastle United had to deploy the Longstaff brothers in their last game due to injuries. This time, however, Bruce will welcome Isaac Hayden back into the fray following his suspension while Jonjo Shelvey is also available to start.
While Shelvey is guaranteed to start, it remains likely that Hayden could be preserved for the Sheffield United game. It could ultimately pave the way for new signing Jeff Hendrick to return, with Jacob Murphy also expected to make his way into the starting eleven. Finally, the Newcastle attack could be led by Dwight Gayle as Bruce looks to rest top scorer Callum Wilson.
Probable Lineup (5-4-1): Dubravka; Manquillo, Fernandez, Clark, Dummett, Krafth; Murphy, Shelvey, Hendrick, Almiron; Gayle
- Having lost their first three FA Cup ties with Newcastle United, Arsenal have progressed/won four of their last five against the Magpies in the competition, most recently a 3-0 win at the Emirates in the fourth round in 2007/08.
- Newcastle’s last three away games against Arsenal in the FA Cup have all ended in 3-0 defeats – in a fifth-round replay in 1936, quarter-final replay in 2002 and a fourth-round tie in 2008.
- Arsenal have only been eliminated at the third round stage of the FA Cup in one of their last 24 campaigns, with that coming against Nottingham Forest the last time they entered the competition as holders (2017-18).
- Newcastle United have been eliminated from 10 of their last 11 FA Cup ties against fellow Premier League opposition, with the exception being a 2-1 win against Blackburn in January 2012.
- Arsenal have won each of their last three games, where Newcastle are without a win in six games across all competitions.
Player to Watch
Gabriel Martinelli’s return to full fitness has served as a boon for Arsenal. The young attacker has offered the much-needed penetration going forward, while his pace, aggression and tenacity have made the Gunners much more effective in the first line of press and indeed on the counter.
Although the Brazilian has not been able to translate his offensive contributions into goals, the upcoming game against Newcastle United serves as an ideal opportunity for him to truly kickstart his campaign. Indeed, Martinelli could cause a lot of problems for the depleted Newcastle defence with his presence on the flanks.
His willingness to make runs in behind the defence combined with his ability to whip in crosses into the box should emerge as one of Arsenal’s main sources of creativity. So the youngster could be a safe bet to be a potential game-changer in the FA Cup fixture.
Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United
Arsenal clearly have the upper hand in this encounter considering their form as well as the fact that they could be further strengthened by the return of Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey. However, the Gunners may struggle without Emile Smith Rowe operating in the attacking midfield role, so we expect them to only win by a narrow margin.