Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side welcome Newcastle to Emirates Stadium on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Stuart Rayner for their views.
Formulating an effective strategy for a trip to the Emirates is a tricky task at the best of times, but Alan Pardew has been further handicapped by Newcastle’s lack of rest after their Boxing Day defeat to Manchester United, and an injury crisis that has left him without an entire midfield.
In the absence of naturally creative players like Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle may play direct, basic football on Saturday.
At least Pardew can choose an unchanged defensive unit – the quintet of Tim Krul, Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini and Davide Santon have started Newcastle’s last six matches, and although they conceded four at Old Trafford, they defend intelligently and are likely to stay narrow, forcing Arsenal into wide zones to cross the ball.
Although Coloccini is Newcastle’s captain and a more renowned centre back, he has one of the poorest aerial duel success rates of any Premier League defender this season, and Williamson is often more dominant in the air.
At the other end of the pitch, Pardew knows his favoured two forwards, but is unsure of how to fit them into the same side. Senegalese duo Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse seemed like an exciting partnership when first used together, but gradually it’s become clear that they don’t have much of a relationship in a 4-4-2 – they score on a mutually exclusive basis, and often make the same runs.
Pardew’s midfield combination depends upon injury, but we can be sure that Cheick Tiote – suspended for the defeat to Manchester United – will return in the centre of midfield. He’ll play directly in front of the defence, and try to prevent Arsenal getting space between the lines, but he has a habit of collecting too many yellow cards, and is much less effective when already on a booking.
We can expect a counter-attacking approach from the visitors. Newcastle have a defence that stays narrow, a couple of potent forwards and a midfield that covers ground quickly. Arsenal will dominate possession, but they must be patient or risk being exploited on the break.
STUART RAYNER, NEWCASTLE EVENING CHRONICLE
It will be a very difficult game for Newcastle because they are finding that injuries and the extra demands of Europe have really taken their toll this season.
I don’t think they’ll be going into the game with very high expectations but will be hoping to pull something off.
Last season, the team selection was a lot more consistent. They were lucky that they didn’t pick up many injuries. That’s not been the case this season. They’ve picked up quite a few injuries, including significant ones to Cabaye and Ben Arfa.
They miss Cabaye a lot. He’s the only real creative central midfielder at the club. He can get his foot on the ball and provides a goal threat from midfield. When he got injured, I think Pardew planned to bring Ben Arfa into the middle in a Santi Cazorla-type role. But then Ben Arfa got injured too.
Demba Ba has been among the goals this season and is certainly a player to look out for. There are a lot of players in the Newcastle squad who have the potential to be dangerous if they can rediscover their form, with Jonas Gutierrez and Papiss Cisse an example of that.
Newcastle have struggled to find a formation to get the best out of both Cisse and Ba. It’s often been the case that one is scoring goals and the other isn’t. Cisse has been asked to play wide at times this season, whereas last season, Ba was playing on the left to accommodate Cisse. They’ve never really looked convincing in a 4-4-2 as Cisse likes to play on his own up front.
Newcastle can look a bit ragged when teams run at them with pace. Mike Williamson can be quite susceptible to pace in behind him.
I think Arsenal have got to be favourites. Newcastle will be hoping to dig in and take a point. They would be quite happy with that.
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