Feature

Newcastle v Arsenal: Five things you need to know

Granit Xhaka

We kick-off our 2019/20 Premier League campaign away to Newcastle United on Sunday.

Here are five things you need to know ahead of this weekend's game at St James' Park.

FAST START?

Our form for opening-day fixtures has been patchy over recent years, losing four of the last six – against Aston Villa (2013/14), West Ham United (2015/16), Liverpool (2016/17) and Manchester City (2018/19). 

But all of those games were at Emirates Stadium. This is our first opener on the road since 2011/12 when we faced... Newcastle. It finished 0-0 that day, and looking purely at opening-day games on the road, we haven't lost since 2000/01, away to Sunderland.

In fact our biggest ever opening-day win came in an away game, 6-1 against Everton at Goodison Park in 2009. 

Our record against Newcastle is also encouraging as we look for a flying start to the 2019/20 season. We've won 12 of our last 13 competitive fixtures against them, including a 2-1 win at St James' Park early last season.

The importance of a good start was illustrated last term as we were always playing catch up after losing our opening two fixtures. And the omens don't bode well if we lose at St James' Park: we have never won the league after losing the first game of the season.


HONEYMOON PERIOD

Steve Bruce takes charge of Newcastle for the first time this weekend, back in management in the Premier League after spells with Birmingham, Wigan, Sunderland and Hull.

Tactical expert Michael Cox tells us: "Benitez favoured a 5-4-1 last season - and Bruce has often played with three centre-backs in recent years, particularly with Hull - but pre-season suggests he’s more likely to use a back four.

"Bruce has been involved in some memorable encounters with Arsenal over the years - most notably the famous ‘replayed’ FA Cup tie against Sheffield United in 1999, and the 2014 FA Cup final, which Arsenal won 3-2 after Bruce’s Hull had been 3-2 up."

In fact, Bruce has lost more games in all competitions against Arsenal than he has against any other side in his managerial career (19).


DEBUTANTS

There could be as many as four debutants on Sunday, with new signings David Luiz, Nicolas Pepe, Dani Ceballos and Gabriel Martinelli all in contention to feature. The latter two were in action during pre-season, but we are yet to see Pepe in an Arsenal shirt since his record-breaking signing from Lille.

Unai Emery said he is 'hopeful' of Alexandre Lacazette recovering from his injury in time for this Sunday, so we could yet see the mouth-watering prospect of Laca, Aubameyang and Pepe up front this weekend. 

Thirteen of our last 17 goals in all competitions have been scored by either Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (nine) or Lacazette (four) – add Pepe into the mix, and there is no shortage of firepower available to Emery for the trip to Newcastle.

There's likely to be a new face at the back as well. David Luiz knows all about playing at St James' Park from his Chelsea days – he was on the winning side there last term – and is in contention to play after his deadline day switch. Fellow new boy Kieran Tierney is still recovering from a double hernia operation.

Though not a new signing, Calum Chambers has yet to make a competitive appearance under Unai Emery, having spent the whole of last season at Fulham on loan. He played every friendly this summer – all but one from the start – and usually in central defence, so may well have done enough to feature on Sunday.

Incidentally the next player to make his debut will be the 865th player in our history, and we are two away from 200 players in the Premier League.


VAR

For the first time ever in the Premier League, VAR will be used for every match this season. The Video Assistant Referees will be called to adjudicate on "clear and obvious errors" or "serious missed incidents" in the following areas only: goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards and mistaken identity.

We played several games with VAR last season, in the Emirates FA Cup and Europa League, however the Premier League have said that "there will be a high bar for VAR intervention on subjective decisions to maintain the pace and intensity of the matches". 

They state that: "Factual decisions, such as offside or if a foul was committed inside or outside the penalty area, will not be subject to the 'clear and obvious error' test."

There are bound to be teething problems when it's launched in the Premier League, and all clubs are being asked to show an explanatory video on the big screens inside the stadium prior to kick-off.

St James' Park - Newcastle United

CAPTAIN'S ARMBAND

Granit Xhaka will make his 100th Premier League appearance if he plays, and there is a chance he will do it as club captain. The midfielder was one of last season's leadership group, and took the armband regularly during pre-season. With Petr Cech and now Laurent Koscielny having departed, the experienced Swiss midfielder could become the new permanent captain. 

He will become the 57th player to reach a century of Premier League appearances for the club, just a month before his 27th birthday. He made his debut on the opening day of the 2016/17 season, at home to Liverpool, and has rarely missed a game since. In fact he has played at least 12 more games than any other Arsenal player since making his debut, missing just 15 fixtures in that time.