Check out today’s prematch blog, as well!
Arsenal will look to kick off the defense of their title emphatically against a Newcastle side that’s in 15th place and going through a rough patch in their season. Newcastle haven’t won a match since December 12th and have only taken 2 points from their last 5 Premier League matches.
It’s fair to assume that Newcastle will look to sit deep within a low block and bide their time while they attempt to catch Arsenal overcommitted. It’s a strategy that has worked well against the Gunners this year, and players like Calum Wilson or Andy Carroll certainly possess the ability to create chances out of very little.
Arsenal’s midfield and attack will need to come with their creative juices flowing, as they did versus West Brom, while their center backs look to dominate what could be a very physical matchup.
In his press conference, Arteta said, “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.” So, you can expect to see an Arsenal side that is looking to win.
Whether that means Arteta names a very strong lineup, given the large break Arsenal have had since their West Brom win, and five day break after Newcastle, or he looks to rotate, will be an interesting aspect to keep tabs on.
Before we dive into lineup, let’s take a look at the team news.
Gabriel previously tested positive for COVID-19. He is feeling well and is showing no signs of illness. Only on the successful completion of the necessary protocols and medical checks in the coming days will Gabriel be able to return to full training with the squad.
Thomas is now back in full training with the squad after recovering from an injury to his left thigh. Thomas will continue to work hard to establish match fitness after being out of action for a month. He will be assessed regarding his availability ahead of Saturday’s match.
For the first time in a long time, Arsenal are coming into this match with a relatively clean bill of health. Both of the players mentioned above have been seen in team training, and both are potentially available for the today’s match.
Early cup lineups are sometimes difficult to predict, especially when Arsenal are going through a relatively volatile time but have had recent success. Will Arteta stick with the same players, will he rotate heavily; and how will he handle the players that want to push for first team time but aren’t being given the chance at the moment?
Sometimes situations like this produces what can look like a weird squad prediction. This could be right, it could be very, very wrong!
After Runarsson’s tough match in the Carabao Cup against Manchester City, it feels like Leno will get the nod.
In the backline, I selected a little bit rotation, little bit normal starting feel. Given the break Arsenal have had, and the lack of a clear option at left back, I kept Tierney in. I also believe we will see Gabriel get minutes after his Covid absence and Luiz come back into the side because of rotation. Finally, I think AMM will get the call at right back. Arteta has been really hesitant to play Niles at RB in a 4-back system and Bellerin has taken advantage of his opportunities playing really well in the last three matches, but it feels like a good opportunity to test AMN after he was substituted on during the West Brom match.
In the midfield, again, I do believe we will see a return of Thomas Partey. Similar to Gabriel, I am unsure of how many minutes and believe there could be a predetermined plan to remove him early, especially given five substitutions, but any reintroduction of Partey would be exciting. Alongside Partey I have paired Ceballos. Dani was very impressive against West Brom and Newcastle is another test against opposition that will willingly concede possession and space. I would like to see him make use of it and put together a second great match.
Finally, I stuck with Emile Smith Rowe. I am not entirely sure of this selection, but given the extensive break between matches and the desire to keep Smith Rowe’s momentum rolling, I think he could easily be in line for another appearance. He is precious cargo at the moment so one could easily understand selecting the likes of Willock instead, but something tells me Smith Rowe will go again.
Up top I reintroduced Martinelli after his break, swapped Nketiah for Lacazette, and put Willian back into the side. Martinelli feels like a no brainer. He got his break, I expect him to be revving his engine and chomping at the bit. The other two, a little more complicated.
Unless Nketiah’s rumored links away from Arsenal are significantly further along than is suggested, I expect him to retain his spot as the natural rotation. Why not Balogun? I think many people have been angry this week at the news that Balogun may be lining up a move away from Arsenal and playing time is the issue, but I don’t expect the club to bend over backward to meet Balogun’s agent’s demands. It sets a poor precedent for other youth players looking for contracts or time, and it’s a player that hasn’t committed himself to the club. A real chicken and egg situation, but I believe the club will stick with their stance. That doesn’t mean Balogun doesn’t make the bench.
Finally, I thought Willian being subbed into the West Brom match was a really telling sign when it comes to Pepe. It’s not a stance that I agree with, nor one that I want, but Willian’s ability to help between the lines as more of a tidy, midfield-type player seems to be winning Arteta over. If Saka is the golden example, Willian is much closer to that profile than Pepe. Believe we will see Willian given another start.
Tough game to predict given that a lot of the prediction may change depending on who is selected. In the end, I expect it to be a game where Arsenal are tasked with breaking down a low block thus making it a bit of a toss up. Which Arsenal side is going to show up?
The Arsenal side looking to feed the ball between the lines and get after the opposition with quick play, or the one that retreats and retains when under any sort of pressure, resulting in a lot of safe side-to-side passes?
I have faith that Arsenal are learning to recognize the aspects of their game that are leading to success, and that through Arteta’s commitment to this 4-2-3-1 formation, the work they do on the training pitch and in the classroom is starting to take effect. It doesn’t guarantee another fantastic performance, but I believe it is enough to see us advance.
Prediction: 2-0 Arsenal
Check out today’s prematch blog as well!