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Gunner Thoughts

The Clash of the Confident

Two teams with all the reasons in the world to feel confident in themselves will clash to make a major statement.

Every Premier League season is filled with little surprises week to week and across the whole season. Be it individual storylines like a striker from a small team rising in stature, scoring 20+ goals or the player returning to their old stomping grounds and exacting revenge. Sometimes it’s team-based like the surprise team that falters and finds themselves in a relegation scrap or a “David” that stands up and attempts to thwart the league Goliath. It’s these surprises that keep us coming back and watching.

As I sat down to write today’s blog, I racked by brain to come up with teams that have a better claim to “surprise of the league” than Arsenal and Newcastle at the moment.

Sure, everyone assumed Newcastle would have a stark rise in stature after their new ownership took over and invested fairly significantly in the team these first windows. But did you have them down as a team that would be swapping places with Manchester City for second place 17 matches into the season? How about the team with the best defense in the league and third best goal differential? At their best they’ve been great, and at their worst they’ve consistently been good enough to leave with something, only losing one match this season (9 wins and 7 draws).

On the other side of this clash, Arsenal need no introduction. I think many—not nearly enough—thought Arsenal would be a solid side, but theres not a single person that would have predicted they would topping the table with a 7 point gap, and the difference between a league-leading side with only 1 loss and a “top four” side can be pretty significant. Arsenal have proven this season that they are winners. One way or another, they have found ways to win games — often dominating their opposition.

It’s tough to say which team is coming in with more confidence. Arsenal won their last game and it’s at the Emirates, but Newcastle will be out to get themselves back to winning ways while taking confidence from the domination of Arsenal they proved themselves capable of late last season.

Eddie Howe has his team overachieving and yet Mikel has Arsenal reaching heights every side will be envious of, at the moment. It feels like a game that is going to come down to a few key aspects:

First 15 minutes

Last time these two teams squared off, Arsenal were played off the park from the very first whistle. Newcastle game out of the gates racing, denied any sort of foothold, and coasted to a win that cost Arsenal dearly. The first 15 minutes can make or break you. Arsenal have started a lot of matches fast, and if they can find a way to assert themselves early and maybe even score early against this stout Newcastle defense, it would demand Newcastle adjust their plan.

Stadium Atmosphere

A huge part of the energy in St. James Park came from and started with fans raving to see their team in action. The atmosphere was bouncing, it was imposing, and I have no doubt it effected Arsenal in a major way. This time, the match is at the Emirates and Arsenal fans have every reason to be out of their seat and booming. If there is any doubt that a title race is on because we haven’t even reached the halfway point, a win tomorrow would all but end that thought. Get loud!

Ball Control

Sounds simple and obvious, but Arsenal are a better team when they have the ball and want to control it 57% of the time. On the other hand, Newcastle possess the ball their fair share, averaging 50.8% each game. Neither team seems entire uncomfortable with the idea of quick transitions and counters if they need to, but it’s on home soil and Arsenal could do with a bounce back after having the ball for only 32% of their match with Brighton.

Set Pieces

Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces. Everyone knows that Trippier has the ability to swing in an exquisite set piece, but this season Arsenal have been the better team when it comes to dead ball situations. The Gunners have scored 7 goals from set pieces and only conceded 1. Newcastle have scored 6 and conceded 3. If the game comes down to tight margins, as first versus third place matches often do, the team that takes advantage of their set pieces could be the differential.

Nketiah

I know there has been a lot of attention on Eddie, maybe too much, but its hard not to feel that this is a match Arsenal really need him to show up and harry Newcastle’s excellent backline. If he gets the goal, excellent, but Arsenal need him to be the highly mobile, physical and shrewd moving attacker he is capable of being. Making their life difficult in the central areas will hopefully give more breathing space for Saka and Martinelli to operate.

Those are just a few things I believe are worth keeping an eye on, some more concrete than others, but I have to say, I am VERY excited for this match. Nervous but excited. Maybe it’s because I have been challenging myself to soak in every moment of this exciting season, which is coming in the form of one game at a time — hopefully Mikel is proud of me — but I am finding myself almost more excited for this fixture with Newcastle than the North London Derby the week after.

Don’t hold me to that, because I will flip flop next week, but this game feels huge for Arsenal’s claim to the league. The margins are tight, every point feels crucial when you feel as though you need 100 to beat Manchester City these days, but one game at a time!

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