Sports Mole previews Monday’s Premier League clash between Arsenal and Newcastle United, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
The Gunners defeated Manchester United in their most recent league match to leave their top-four fate in their own hands, but any sort of slip-up over the remaining six weeks could prove costly.
Perhaps more than any other side, certainly among those battling it out for a top-four finish, Arsenal have quietly gone about their business this term and are already within three points of their points tally from the end of last season.
Unai Emery deserves great credit for that, having made Arsenal a more consistent side since replacing Arsene Wenger last summer. The Spaniard will be the first to admit that his side could still do with some strengthening, particularly at the back, but he is well on course to achieving the goal he set himself last summer.
This season will be a big success for Emery if he can guide Arsenal back into the Champions League. With two months of the campaign to go, there are still two routes open to the Gunners as they are fourth in the Premier League and into the last eight of the Europa League.
Emery may opt to prioritise the Europa League in the coming weeks, with Napoli up next, as it not only provides entry into the Champions League should they win it, but will also give the Spaniard some silverware in his maiden campaign on these shores if his side can successfully navigate these next three rounds.
Arsenal also have a favourable run of fixtures in the Premier League, having already faced each of their top-six rivals home and away, so it is easy to see why many are backing the Gunners to hold off Man United and Chelsea to finish fourth.
Fans of the North London outfit would also love nothing more than to overtake bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who have a tricky test against Liverpool this weekend and could therefore be caught, sitting only one point better off than Arsenal ahead of this weekend’s matches.
Arsenal have been superb on home soil this year, winning all six of their league games at the Emirates Stadium in 2019 – one of only three English league clubs to have done so, along with Manchester City and Championship side Sheffield United.
In fact, the Gunners have won their last nine Premier League home games and they now have a chance to match their record of 10 with three more points on Monday, set back in 1997-98.
Every matchday between now and the end of the season could be pivotal in the race for Champions League football. Another victory for Arsenal on Monday and they will find themselves perfectly positioned ahead of the final run-in.
Recent form in Premier League: LWWWDW
Recent form (all competitions): WWDLWW
Following their last-gasp draw against Bournemouth two weeks ago, Newcastle find themselves on exactly the same number of points as they did at the same stage 12 months ago.
Furthermore, they have scored the same number of goals (31) and conceded the same number (40), suggesting that they are well on course to finishing above the dropzone, as was the case last season.
For now, though, Benitez’s only focus is on keeping his side in the top flight, and one more victory – taking them to 38 points – may well be enough.
The 2-2 draw at the Vitality Stadium provided another example of Benitez’s ability to get every last drop out of his players, seeing makeshift wing-back Matt Ritchie thump the ball home in added time to keep his side’s tally ticking over.
Newcastle have settled on a new formation and their results over the past two months, winning five and drawing two of their last nine matches, will surely be enough to keep them in the division for another season.
However, the Magpies have lost 17 of their last 23 away Premier League games in London and are winless in their last six visits to the capital. Another defeat on Monday, combined with positive results for the sides below them, and all of a sudden they are right back in the relegation mix.
Benitez has admitted that his side cannot afford to enter cruise mode, especially with half of their remaining fixtures coming against sides scrapping for their lives. If the parallels with last season are anything to go by, though, United should be just fine.
Recent form in Premier League: DWWLWD
Arsenal could be without seven first-team players for Monday’s clash, including influential midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has not fully recovered from a thigh strain sustained in Arsenal’s last outing.
Granit Xhaka is another major doubt after complaining of an adductor problem while on international duty with Switzerland, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Sead Kolasinac may also be absent, despite representing their countries this week.
Emery may have to take a risk on the fitness of some of his players, though, especially at the back and in defensive midfield because of a lack of other options.
Mesut Ozil has spent the past fortnight at Arsenal’s Colney training base, meanwhile, and he should start this match. The German midfielder has had a hand in four goals in four Premier League games against Newcastle United (three goals, one assist).
In terms of the visitors, Fabian Schar suffered a head injury while playing for Switzerland, though he would have sat this one out anyway as he is suspended.
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ozil; Aubameyang, Lacazette
Newcastle United possible starting lineup:
Dubravka; Yedlin, Lejeune, Fernandez, Clark, Ritchie; Perez, Hayden, Shelvey, Almiron; Rondon
Head To Head
Arsenal have won their last six home Premier League games against Newcastle, scoring 18 goals and conceding just five.
The Magpies have lost 11 of their last 12 Premier League matches against the Gunners, though that solitary win came less than 12 months ago.
Only against Man United (28) have Newcastle lost more Premier League games than against Arsenal (27).
We say: Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United
The international break may have disrupted Arsenal’s rhythm slightly, but this is a good fixture – one they have dominated down the years – to ease them back in for the final stretch. The Gunners may drop out of the top four before kicking a ball, but it is a matchday that could also see them climb up to third place, showing just how tight it is in the top-four battle.