The weekend is here, the wait is over, Arsenal are back in action at home versus The Magpies. After a break in Dubai where Mikel Arteta likened the trip to a mini-preseason and players were quoted saying discussions were had around how to get Arsenal into the Champions League, the day has come to begin proving it’s more than just talk.
While there are still avenues back into the Champions League, opportunities feel few and far between. Sitting in 10th place in the league, 10 points behind Chelsea feels like a difficult task for them to overcome in their final 13 games. 8 points behind 5th Sheffield United would feel equally as difficult if Arsenal did not have a game in hand to make it feel a little more comfortable. Placing 5th and having a Premier League team win the Champions League would mean Arsenal find themselves being accepted into the Champions League next year but that is reliant on a lot of other things happening. However, with yesterday’s announcement of City’s violation of FFP laws, there is a chance that 5th place would equal a spot for a Premier League team.
Of course, winning the Europa League is the clearest path back into Champions League play, but there is a fair amount of competition standing in the way. Wolverhampton, Ajax, Porto, Sevilla, Olympiacos, Manchester United, Inter Milan, RB Salzburg, and Roma will all like their chances of winning too.
If Champions League isn’t an option, Arsenal will look to do whatever they can to ensure they at least have European matches next year by booking their place back into the Europa League. While that would be another hit to their financial stability, not having even Europa League could be devastating when the summer transfer window opens, and they try to entice top talents to North London to help rebuild and bolster their side.
The team and staff are aware as they tried to address the next set of problems with their time in Dubai. Check out my thoughts from earlier this week on the top 5 things I would like to see from them coming out of the break. The fixtures come thick and fast with Newcastle, two legs against Olympiacos, and a game against Everton who is flying high with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, but this will have to be Arsenal’s time if they are going to get anything from the season.
But first, The Magpies
Before Arsenal can reach their highly anticipated Europa League Knockout match vs. Olympiacos, Newcastle comes to the Emirates. Arsenal saw off Newcastle on the opening day with an Aubameyang goal in the 58th minute, in a game they saw a large amount of the ball (62% possession). However, that was under the watch of Emery and, in true form to how Arsenal have been this year, they struggled to create chances being outshot by the Magpies 9-8 and only managing 2 shots on target.
Arteta will look to get the same result, in better fashion, against the 12th place Newcastle side that is level on points with Arsenal, despite having a -12 goal differential. It’s the first chance to make a statement about how the team will finish the year since the break and the changes they are looking to deploy from here on out.
Arteta and Arsenal gave an update on team news and some injured and questions players leading into Sunday’s match:
Available for selection following left thigh strain.
In full training following transfer from Brazilian pre-season. Aiming to be available for selection for Olympiacos (a).
Available for selection following right hamstring strain.
Available for selection after being substituted during Burnley (a) following knock to right leg.
Left knee. Progressing well with gym work. Aiming to be in full training by the end of February.
Right shoulder. Dislocated right shoulder during West Ham Utd (a) on December 9. Good progress being made in rehabilitation process and has commenced participation in group training sessions. Aiming to be in back in full training by the end of February
Many people will be waiting with bated breath to see who Mikel selects for his starting eleven this weekend to give insight to any changes moving forward. No matter his selection it is sure to launch conversations and debates about what his picks mean for the game against Olympiacos four days later. With the team looking to add balance and goals to their game, while maintaining their newfound sense of security, Arteta is faced with a handful of potential choices.
Giving up less than a goal per game under Arteta, Arsenal have seemingly repaired their sinking ship and patched the gaping holes in back that teams were exploiting. However, it has cost them the ability to throw midfielders into the attack. Playing two very, defensive midfielders alongside arguably out of form Ozil and Lacazette as focal points for getting the attack going, Arsenal have struggled to create frequent enough chances and any semblance of end product.
With the break in Dubai being one of Mikel’s first opportunities to work with the team for an extended amount of time, some differences will be expected. Here are a couple choices he possibly will face this weekend to help create change:
- Who plays and where do they play within the attacking front?
- Will Lacazette get another opportunity to lead the line or will he bring Aubameyang into that center role?
- If Lacazette stays, how does Arteta work an in-form Martinelli into the lineup along with Pepe and Aubameyang?
- If he opts for Martinelli to play on the right again, what does that mean for Pepe who has been streaky with his playing time throughout the year?
- Who plays our isolated attacking midfielder role? Does he stick with Ozil who is on a steep decline in production but maybe offers more than Willock or Ceballos in that role?
- What change to the midfield pairing of Torreira and Xhaka will we see to offer more attacking presence in the middle of the park?
- Kolasinac or Saka? With Kolasinac healthy and Saka playing great, who starts?
- What becomes of that role in March once Kieran Tierney is fit and healthy?
- Do you alter the lineup knowing you have a more important game later in the week or play your best to try to get your momentum started once again?
All things we will have to wait and see! The questions could continue and, no doubt, they will after the match, but 3 points are needed and taking the double over Newcastle is another great opportunity for the Gunners – they just need to take it.