The international break is over and club football has returned!
The early season break always feels like a long one, with the league having barely begun before the brakes are applied.
The Premier League returns this Saturday for the fifth game week of the season. Arsenal are making the trip north to face up against Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United, who no doubt pose a potential banana skin.
Last season, Arsenal supporter’s seen Newcastle’s threat first-hand when the Magpies won this exact fixture 2-1 in April of this year, bringing to a close a 10-match losing run against Arsenal in the league.
Away form has been perhaps Arsenal’s biggest folly of recent times, and the team haven’t won consecutive league games since May 2017. This is a chance to begin rectifying that, and also, to gain momentum on-the-road, which will be essential to a successful season.
The win against Cardiff City prior to the break showed resolve – the going was rough at times, but the team fought off the deadlock on two occasions to win the match with an Alexandre Lacazette goal as the game approached it’s closing stages.
The same team that beat Cardiff may well be named, with Lacazette certainly making a good argument for his continued inclusion from the start. In his past 5 league starts, the French striker has scored five goals and provided 2 assists.
While defensive in-coordination has been one largely negative attribute of Emery’s early days at the helm, at least the team has been scoring – and it’s been a large variety of players. The aforementioned Lacazette got off the mark in the previous game, as did fellow striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
There have been 6 more goals in the opening 4 games, and each have been scored by different players (including Issa Diop’s own goal against West Ham).
One player who got to train with Arsenal throughout the break was Mesut Ozil, with the German playmaker going through his first post-retirement international break. His manager was glad to have him there, with Unai Emery saying: “Mesut, like other players, works very well here and also working the ties and also together to improve things. Mesut, I look at him with the focus totally here."
Hopefully, more time on the training pitch will help with the continuation of bedding in Emery’s plans within the team. While things may not be at the cohesiveness that both the manager an supporters would like to see just yet, the past two matches – the wins against West Ham United and Cardiff – have showed that the quality is there to get good results.
Thankfully for Emery, there are no fresh injury concerns at the club following the player’s time on international duty. Alex Iwobi was unavailable for the previous game against Cardiff City due to illness, but is expected to be available for selection tomorrow.
Unfortunately, still no Laurent Koscielny, Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Carl Jenkinson, however, as they all continue to recover from injury.
Newcastle on the other hand may have some high-profile doubts. Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie have returned to training following injuries, but are still doubts as to whether they will feature against Arsenal.
After late-returns from international duty, Saloman Rondon and DeAndre Yedlin may not be featured from the start (or at all).
Newcastle have opted to play “negative” football against the perceived top sides in the division, which was clear from there collective bus-parking against Chelsea and Manchester City already this campaign.
In the case of the former, the negative tactics almost paid dividends only for the Blues to snatch a winner late-on. Teams like Fulham and Wolves have went on the offence against the big teams, and have showed that this is not necessarily a bad tactic if implemented well – Newcastle, thus far, are firmly planting there tactical flag in defending territory, with the hope of causing damage on the break.
Arsenal’s opening four games have certainly showed them to be susceptible at the back. While there have arguably been improvements in every game, the Gunners have conceded in all 4 games this season.
Benitez will look to exploit Arsenal’s defensive frailties on the break, and after near-misses against Chelsea and City, he will be looking to finish the game with at least a share of the spoils, even if it’s not pretty.
There’s no doubt Newcastle have had a difficult start to this season in terms of fixtures – 4 of their first 5 matches were against sides that made up last season’s top 6 – but with only one point on the table so far (from a dour nil-nil draw against Cardiff City), there is an impetus on them to pull off an upset on home soil on Saturday.
Getting rid of that very demoralising consecutive-away win stat would very much so be a step in the right direction for the Gunners. After picking up zero points from the opening two fixtures, Emery has got 6 from 6 available in the most recent two. Another away win on the board would begin to steady the ship and leave Arsenal on a respectable 9 points, likely just outside the top 6.
To achieve this, Emery’s men will have to get through a resilient Newcastle, and while this is doable, it won’t be an easy task.
Arsenal travel to Newcastle United on Saturday the 15th of September for a Premier League match at St. James’s Park, with kick-off scheduled for 3PM.