This weekend sees Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez go head-to-head for the first time since January 2013. On that occasion, Rafa Benitez’ former Chelsea side won 2-1.
Newcastle fans may tell you that you’d have to go back to February 2011 for Newcastle’s last win over Arsenal. An outrageous equaliser from Cheick Tiote (R.I.P), sealed it for the Geordies. (The game ended 4-4, but Arsenal giving up a 4-0 lead could be classed as a “loss”).
The promoted side haven’t beaten Arsenal away since November 2010, with Andy Carroll scoring the only goal of the game. Could this be the weekend they win at Arsenal for the first time in seven years?
Since the 2011-12 season Arsenal have won every fixture between the sides barring one – a 0-0 draw on the opening weekend of that season. The following season saw two memorable wins for Arsene Wenger’s side with the first being a 7-3 win (the highest scoring match between the sides in Premier League history) and a 1-0 away win on the final weekend of that season (though a fair few Tottenham Hotspur fans thought Newcastle had scored an equaliser).
With all that being said, will Benitez get one over Wenger?
Thoughts ahead of the game
Although I have a “soft spot” for the Magpies, that must be put to one side.
Arsenal are strong favourites to get back to winning ways following a less than enthusiastic 0-0 draw at West Ham in the week, having only picked up two points in their last three games.
Newcastle United, on the other hand, haven’t picked up a single point since a 2-2 draw at West Brom in late November, whilst their last win came in October when they beat a struggling Crystal Palace at home (1-0) in October.
The northern club have been experiencing problems off the pitch too with issues surrounding the potential sale of the club to business person Amanda Staveley from Mike Ashley.
The side itself must put all that to one side and play the best football they can.
Team news/ managers words
Shkodran Mustafi is back in training but Wenger doesn’t know whether he’ll play or not. Aaron Ramsey is definitely ruled out, thus not being in contention. Its said that he’ll be out for three weeks, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.
On whether Ramsey’s absence creates an opportunity for Jack Wilshere:
“I don’t know yet. I will rotate a bit. We will have to see how everyone recovers. We’ve played four games in nine days, so we have to assess a bit. He has done well in the games he’s played”.
Looks like we’ll have to wait and see…
He was asked whether Alexandre Lacazette was dropped or rested:
“Because of rotation. He had recently, a groin problem and I didn’t want to push him too much”
“I don’t know how you can call that. When you rotate, you rotate. He was rested”. – On claims about the French forward being “dropped”.
That’s been settled then!
He was also asked whether playing a back four was the “way forward”:
“I will adapt a bit to the problem we face. I played with a back four at West Ham as I thought we would have a lot of the ball and I wanted one more offensive player in there”.
From this, I’m getting that he’s open to change things again. He won’t permanently play a back four but will look in variety.
Rafa Benitez also spoke to the media:
Newcastle fans won’t be best pleased to hear that Aleksandar Mitrovic has been ruled out through a back problem and Jesus Gamez is also out. Though there is some good news as Paul Dummett is back in the squad. Jonjo “red card” Shelvey is also out.
On the goalkeeper situation:
“Normally the keeper is always different to selecting others because it is about confidence. You have to analyse everything before changing that position”.
“We have what he have, we are what we are. That is the reality. We have to stay united if we want to come through this. The target is still 20 points for Christmas, but yes it will be hard.
Optimism mixed with realism. Love it! Looking at his side’s run-in, it’ll be difficult to achieve the target, but do you think its possible?
Although Arsenal are favourites, I wouldn’t count out Newcastle on making life difficult. Having said that, I can see Newcastle losing should they score first early on in the first half. Given that’s exactly what they did at Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and at home to Leicester City, would they have learnt by now?
Featured Image Credit: ctwino