Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side take on Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on Monday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Neil Cameron.
Arsenal’s hard-fought 1-0 victory at Newcastle in the final league game of 2013 was an impressive win against a resilient, well-organised side that had won 10 of their first 18 matches.
However, Newcastle’s decline since that day has been shocking, and in a league table based upon results from 2014 alone, only Cardiff are below Alan Pardew’s side.
They’ve been defeated in 12 of their last 17 matches, 11 of them without scoring. Their early-season results mean Newcastle have maintained their top-half position, but on Monday Arsenal face a side that have been showing nothing short of relegation form in recent months.
"The return of Loic Remy after a couple of months out injured should give them a boost"
The January departure of Yohan Cabaye contributed heavily to this decline. The Frenchman was one of the best midfielders in the division, having been pushed forward to an advanced position to contribute goals, but Newcastle haven’t been able to adequately replace him.
Moussa Sissoko has sometimes been fielded in that role, pressing from high up the pitch and storming forward powerfully in possession, but he lacks Cabaye’s technical quality on the ball.
Pardew has generally used a 4-2-3-1 formation this season, although the identity of the player behind the main striker means the precise system can vary significantly. If Sissoko is in that role, Newcastle are attempting to pack the centre of the pitch, while loanee Luuk de Jong is more of a second striker.
A lack of goals has been Newcastle's biggest problems, but the return of Loic Remy after a couple of months out injured should give them a boost. He’s extremely quick and makes excellent runs into the channels, and Arsenal must be aware of Remy's clever movement.
Newcastle's main wing threat is Yoann Gouffran, an extremely pacy dribbler who gets himself into goalscoring positions. The question mark is on the right flank, where Pardew has tried Sissoko, Vurnon Anita, Dan Gosling, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse in recent weeks - everything from box-to-box midfielders to central strikers. Ben Arfa is clearly the most talented, and is capable of brilliant solo goals, but appears to have fallen out of favour.
Newcastle tend to defend deep, with centre backs Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson happier battling in the air rather than dealing with opposition pace. The full backs are given license to attack, but also tuck in narrow and cover behind their centre backs. Right-sided France international Mathieu Debuchy does this particularly well, and on his day is one of the best in the Premier League.
NEIL CAMERON, NEWCASTLE EVENING CHRONICLE
After losing the derby in October, Newcastle were terrific until around Christmas time. Apart from Manchester City, I would say they were playing some of the best football in the league. They won at Old Trafford for the first time in 42 years and they won at White Hart Lane. They beat Chelsea and drew 2-2 against Liverpool when they were down to 10 men for more than half the game.
Yohan Cabaye was so good for Newcastle - he was the best player at the club since Alan Shearer and, since he was sold, they have only won three of the next 12 league games. At the turn of the year, they were only three points behind Liverpool.
"Newcastle aren't a bad team but they have a small squad"
Newcastle have got a good first XI but as soon as somebody gets injured or suspended, they tend to struggle. They should have strengthened in January but they didn't and left themselves open to injury and suspension. Cabaye was a leader and he was a brilliant player too and they have suffered from losing him. Newcastle aren't a bad team but they have a small squad.
Apart from Cabaye, Loic Remy had a spell of playing really well too. He's scored 13 league goals but has been injured over the last couple of months. At the other end of the pitch, Mike Williamson has impressed. He's been my man of the season - he's not Franco Baresi but his attitude is terrific and he really shows in every game. Players like Moussa Sissoko, Vurnon Anita and Yoan Gouffran have had spells where they have played well too.
I remember the game between Newcastle and Arsenal just after Christmas and I remember coming away thinking that there wasn't much between the teams. Newcastle had their chances in the second half on that afternoon. I think Alan Pardew will try to not lose the game on Monday. He's the first Newcastle manager in the Premier League era to lose five games in a row but Arsenal will have to work to break his team down. I imagine Newcastle will play a 4-5-1 and try to catch Arsenal on the break.
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