As we prepare to head to Newcastle United, Mikel Arteta believes that playing at St James’ Park is one of the trickiest tests on the Premier League calendar.
The Magpies have lost just three of their 24 home Premier League games since the start of last season, thanks in part to the rejuvenated atmosphere generated by 52,000 Geordies each matchday and the performances of Eddie Howe’s side.
However, one of those losses came at our expense back in May, and we have won eight of our last 10 trips to Tyneside - albeit mostly against a very different Newcastle side. Despite all the stats, Mikel is under no illusions about the toughness of the task at hand on Saturday.
Assessing the difficulty of the game, he said: “It’s a big one. It’s one of the toughest places to go and win. We've done it and there is nothing new to it, we know what we’re expecting. It is very clear what they do, what their strengths are, and where the opportunities are for us. We will try to take the game where we want.
“When you play football, you want to play in those atmospheres. Like going to Seville, you know what you are going to get. It’s an incredible privilege to play at those grounds.
“You have to embrace the moment, enjoy it and go for it because it’s worth it. These are the arenas you want to be tested in.”
The boss does believe that our past experiences of winning inside hostile environments will stand us in good stead, as he feels there have been two key qualities that have helped improve our away record in recent seasons.
“Belief, and then performances,” he suggested. “First of all, we have to be so convinced that you can go to Newcastle and fully believe you are going to win the game. It has to be really clear what you have to do to achieve that. Then obviously quality and talent to get the performance that we need and that’s down to the players.”
As our manager, Mikel has only overseen more wins against Leeds United in all competitions than the six he has against Newcastle. However, with the Magpies having forced themselves back amongst English football’s elite and playing in the Champions League this term, he has the utmost respect for his opponent in the opposite dugout.
“I think [Howe] has transformed the club, the environment, the atmosphere,” Mikel added. “What he has created in the team as well, they have such belief in what they do and it’s a huge compliment to him.
“I have huge credit for what he's done, the way he's done it, the way his team plays and the environment he has created - it is fantastic. He's had a lot of support, which we all need, and now they are big contenders.”
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