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It will have been 9 days and 150 minutes since the last time Newcastle came to The Emirates and the whistle blew for the first half kickoff to be exact, but the challenge on hand will be a little different for Arsenal.
It took 120 minutes of play to find their way past the Magpies in the FA Cup which isn’t an option this time around. With three precious Premier League points up for grabs, Arsenal will have to be technically much better from the kick off to use every second they have to break down another difficult low blow.
It may be Arsenal advancing to the 4th round of the FA Cup after an outstanding finish to the match, but Newcastle will certainly have take confidence from keeping Arsenal off the scoreboard for 90 minutes, and the fact that it was them who probably had the best chance to win it all during regulation. If it wasn’t for an outstanding flurry of goalkeeping from Bernd Leno at the death, Andy Carroll could hav easily tucked away the winner and stolen all the glory.
Carroll didn’t, Leno made the saves, and it was Arsenal’s young stars that took over. Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, Tierney and Aubameyang helped net two goals to win. Arsenal will certainly hope that giving them a complete set of 90 minutes will lead to a comfortable result.
Arsenal had a tough go against a stout Crystal Palace, and a major factor in that frustration will have been Palace’s ability to force Smith Rowe to navigate himself wider and wider, denying him the ball between the lines, and denying Lacazette the ability help him all that much. It was something I had predicted would be the case before the match started in my prematch blog.
I actually expect Emile Smith Rowe to have a tougher game this time around than the previous 4. Before this, teams won’t have had a lot of footage on him, nor will they have considered him a major threat, instead focusing their attention on others like Aubameyang, Lacazette, or Saka. Now that Smith Rowe has had success in all four of his matches, he should be considered a real threat by teams who will look to mark him out of matches and use his inexperience against him. Others in the side will have to come to Emile’s aid and help work him into games and draw defenders away from him so that he can operate in between the lines against the low block.Arsenal-Crystal Palace: Team News, lineups, prediction, Gunner Thoughts
As Emile Smith Rowe finds success in those critical areas and opposition sees the devastating results he can produce, they will dedicate resources and preparation time to scheming against him. It’s important that he grows as a player, is aided by veterans like Lacazette dropping into the hole to still help create a numerical overload, and that Arsenal don’t look to him to be the sole difference maker.
Emile Smith Rowe was fantastic in his first four matches, but he was asked to simply play within himself and play his game. Arsenal still relied on the left side of their attack — an aspect that floundered without Tierney versus Palace — still involved Bellerin and Saka on the right, and the more experienced pivot behind Smith Rowe played well with the additional, attacking pass option in front of them. Arsenal need to bring that back, something that it certainly possible should we see Partey and Tierney back in action.
It hasn’t just been Arsenal’s attack playing better, a lot of the success comes from how impressive the backline as been, enabling the midfield to expand their roles and join the attack. Arsenal have four straight clean sheets and in a fifth match, were incredibly impressive against Chelsea, allowing just 3 shots on target.
“It’s very positive because that is the foundation to win any game,” said Arteta on his defense, “and gives you a great opportunity to go on and win every single game.”
“[Against Crystal Palace] we lacked that quality in the final third, that are needed against teams like Palace. Roy is a manager who gets teams really organised, they have been so successful against big teams over the years because they are a real threat as well in transition and on set pieces. We lacked that against them.”
It’s a fair assessment and one that many Arsenal fans would agree with. Arsenal had the ball for 67% of the match, but worked very little. Both fullbacks played quite poorly, and neither wing offered the attacking play Arsenal need to keep low blocks honest.
According to Arteta, Pablo Mari is likely to miss a few games which opens the door for Gabriel to return to the starting lineup. Mari has been a crucial part to the backline’s recent success, but Gabriel has been impressive in his own right all season.
More people will have their eyes on the midfield pairing as Thomas Partey possibly makes his first start since early December. “Well he’s made the right step. Obviously he hasn’t played much football in the last four months.”
“He had an injury in exactly the same place he had before when he got injured against Spurs. Now we have the reassurance that he can compete. He did it for 25, 30 minutes. He did it well, he didn’t feel anything so now we’re going to be looking for the next step.”
It was nice to see him come in for the end and even better to see him rack up four tackles during that time giving him the second highest tally in the match. He is a ball winner, he pressures and wins it back early, and he is an extremely positive player with the ball at his feet. Be that through looking to find the guy in front of him or do it with the dribble, Partey has already proven himself to be one of Arsenal’s most progressive players.
It’s not likely that he will unlock Arsenal’s creative juice or solve the creativity issue that Arsenal have in their side, but it doesn’t feel like a stretch to believe injecting his quality, progressive play, and ball-winning abilities simply makes Arsenal’s midfield much more dynamic and capable. As long as Arteta resists the urge to isolate him in the center, as we have seen him do on two occasions to the detriment of Partey’s influence, Thomas will definitely be a breath of fresh air in the center.
Three points tomorrow may not do the most for Arsenal’s table positioning. They would move above Aston Villa by a point, but Villa will have four games in hand over Arsenal and a few other Premier League sides. What it would do is put Arsenal back on the winning path, extend their unbeaten run to six as they head toward their next FA Cup matchup against Southampton or Shrewsbury Town and then a tougher run of matches.
Adding more confidence heading into Southampton, Manchester United, Wolves, Aston Villa, and Leeds as their five Premier League fixtures after Newcastle could prove to be the difference between struggling throughout it or collecting a few extra points.
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