So it begins…
Arsenal begin the defense of the FA Cup today versus Newcastle United in a match that should offer plenty to think about. It’s far from the easiest opening match when you compare it to Everton facing Rotherham, Leicester getting Stoke, Chelsea getting Morecambe, Tottenham facing Marine, City facing Birmingham, or even Leeds drawing Crawley.
Granted, Newcastle are a side that every Gooner will be expecting the Gunners to beat, but facing a Premier League side in early stages of cup competitions is never a great draw. To add a little extra skin to the game, Arsenal will play Newcastle today and once more nine days from now with three big Premier League points on the line.
While it’s fair to assume there will be a degree of rotation to the side, historical precedent suggests that the Arteta will definitely take this match quite serious with his selection. Arteta has made it clear time and time again in his interviews that he wants to be competitive in every competition and work toward being a side that makes deep run in each of them. That message was reiterated once more in Arteta’s prematch press conference.
“We’re going to go after every competition. We are the holders, we have to defend that title. We know what it means to the football club and the history that is related to the FA Cup. It’s a great competition to play in for us.”
The team is coming off three straight wins, a significant bounce back in form after months of struggling, and you can bet Arteta is anxious to keep his foot on the gas. Add in the fact that Arsenal have had a full week off since their win over West Brom, and they have five days off between today’s Newcastle match in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace in the Premier League on the 14th of January, and you can assume that players not having fresh legs isn’t the largest concern on Mikel’s mind. Whether that leads to playing a lineup like the one against West Brom or not remains to be seen.
To make matters a bit more interesting, in a very positive way, this will be the first time in a long time that Arsenal come into a match with a completely healthy squad — or at least an empty injury report. Gabriel and Thomas Partey were the last two names to be cleared from what was once a long list of names.
Gabriel was absent for an extended period of time after testing positive for Covid-19, but has returned, and Thomas Partey has worked his rehab back to a place where he is in full training with the team. It wouldn’t be surprising if we see both of them get minutes in tomorrows match, nor would it be surprising if they are given a few extra days worth of sessions before an official return.
“Well, we have an extra two training sessions [before the game] and we will assess after that whether he is completely fully ready to participate against Newcastle,” said Arteta when asked about Partey, “or if we’re going to leave it another few days for the Palace game. “
“He is training really good, he is comfortable, he is not aware of the injury right now and he has done more than what he already did before he played after the injury against Spurs, so he is in a good place, a good mood and you can see the player he is when he is training.”
In many ways it would make sense to use today’s cup match as a warm-up, but does that come in the form of starter minutes or a plan to be subbed on late? In my opinion, it would make sense to control the situation a bit more and have them start, but I could understand the fear of something happening within the game that means you can’t pull them off, forcing them into a premature full-90.
To progress to the next round Arsenal will have to get around Newcastle, a side that sits in 15th in the Premier League, has struggled to amass much when it comes to stats, and who has also been in a slump recently. Newcastle haven’t won a match since December 12th against West Brom. Since then, they have dropped points to Leeds, Fulham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Leicester, and lost to Brentford in the Carabao Cup. It’s not the easiest run of games and Newcastle will certainly look for any opportunity to climb their way out of this hole.
I think it’s fair to expect a good amount of long balls and direct play from the Magpies, which will make their striker selection interesting. Will they maintain their usage of Calum Wilson up top or will they opt for the size and physical presence of Andy Carroll. It’s two quite different games that Arsenal’s backline will have to be ready to handle. Calum Wilson offers size but has a good amount of pace to be dangerous, versus Carroll who is as likely as any to win any single cross thats lumped into the box for him.
Without the ball, you can count on Newcastle being content to sit deep and bide their time. This is another golden opportunity for Arsenal to work on their play against a low block and build off their performance against West Brom. They reaped the rewards of their quick tempo and attempt to get vertical with a bit more dare in their game. Finding Smith Rowe, Saka, and Lacazette between the lines, while still getting their dangerous fullback pair into the mix was a lethal combination and more of that will be needed.
Newcastle likely runs a tighter shift in that block than the struggling West Brom, meaning the passage through should be a bit tougher, but continuing to see the positive signs and intent would likely go a long way to making Arsenal fans continue to feel confident in their side turning the corner and heading toward better times.
At the end of the day, it is a cup match so getting a result is what matters most. Everyone knows how great it would be to see the team make another run at defending their title and getting back the Wembley stadium. The defense of it starts today! Come on you Gunners.
Check out today’s blog on team news, lineup, and predictions!