Mikel Arteta doesn’t feel that last season’s 2-0 loss to Newcastle United will have any impact on the encounter between the sides on Sunday.
Almost exactly 12 months ago, we saw our hopes of a Champions League return all but end at St James’ Park in the final week of the campaign, but Mikel feels that any emotional hangovers from that match have long been overcome and forgotten.
Much has changed for both sides in the past year, with us sealing qualification to Europe’s premier competition with weeks to spare, while the Magpies have swapped relegation battles for top-four ones. That leads the boss to believe that we will be in for a very different encounter this time around on Tyneside.
“It is a very different game,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “It was a year ago with different players, a different game but we’ll have to play much better than we did last year, that’s for sure.
“There is not a lot to motivate from there, there are a lot of things we have to do much better than we did on the day. It’s a different group of players as well and where we are today is very different to that group.”
Eddie Howe’s team are enjoying their best season in a decade, and come into this meeting on a run of eight wins from their previous nine matches.
They proved to be very difficult opponents at the Emirates Stadium at the turn of the year when they ground out a 0-0 draw - one of only two Premier League games we’ve failed to find the net in this season - but Mikel feels lessons will have been learnt from that match back in January, with finding the net imperative to keep our title challenge on track.
Reflecting on the goalless draw in north London, he mused: “We will try to play the game that we want, and they will want to play a very different game. That was the battle when we played them at Emirates Stadium, but I think we deserved to win the game. There are things that are obviously going to be different from the last game and we’re going to have to be better to earn the right to win it.
“They are a really good side who are well coached and have really good players and the right environment around the club right now, so they are in a good place. We know that it is going to be a really tough game because especially at home they’ve been really good.
“They already are third in the league right now, and they merit that position with the way they have performed and the amount of changes they have made. They have made some very intelligent decisions as well, so they deserve to be where they are.”
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