Gunner Thoughts

Arsenal – Newcastle: Match the Pace or Slow and Controlled?

Arteta will have to decide if he wants to match Newcastle’s pace and physical play or look to slow things down and control the tempo.

The matchup between Arsenal and Newcastle presents us with another interesting dynamic. It’s a clash between two teams at the top of the table with a lot on the line, in every way, but Arsenal’s task feels far more daunting. 

Before Chelsea, Arteta talked about “keeping that fire in the belly”.  

In the face of a title charge that was no longer entirely within their control, up against a City side that hasn’t shown any signs of dropping considerable points since February, it’s been understandable that people feel like Arsenal’s destiny lies in finishing second. Could this young team remind themselves there was still something to play for — pride, points, and a chance — and keep their play at the level that got them this far?

They did that versus Chelsea. They controlled the match, but it was a performance that felt skewed or clouded by just how horrible Chelsea were as a team. The Blues’ defending was abysmal, their attack was impotent, their tactics leader, FRANK-ly, shouldn’t be coaching at this level. 

Sunday presents a very different foe. Newcastle have been rampant, lately. They have so much to play for on Sunday and clear picture of everything on the line. They are at the front of the league’s 3rd-6th thicket of teams and are feeling one hand on the Champions League qualification achievement. Their last nine performances have reflected as much. 

  • 13 goals in 3 matches (3 against)
  • 8 wins in their last 9 matches (26 goals in those matches)
  • 60% possession in last 3 matches

They are running amuck, banging in goals, and may he who stands in front of them know fear. As a squad, they present an extremely athletic and physical midfield and attack. They will try to dial up the same ‘all gas no brakes’ gameplan that saw them steamroll Arsenal at St. James park at the end of last season.

How Arteta looks to stymie the form will not only be an intriguing aspect of this high-stakes matchup, but stands to make or break the result for Arsenal.

Jorginho and Partey

Arteta’s ability to flex around his side to combat this Newcastle side will mostly depend on Arsenal’s fitness. If Gabriel is hurt and Partey isn’t 100% fit — a suspicion many have had for the past few weeks — Arteta’s priority becomes mending holes and placing stop gaps to fill major weaknesses in the spine.

Partey was on the bench for Chelsea but game in as a substitute. As for Gabriel, Arteta stated in his prematch press conference, “We’ll have to see tomorrow how he is, but he could not finish the game [against Chelsea] so that was obviously a big sign for us and we’ll have to see how he is tomorrow.”

If both are fit enough to start and be selected, there are two options I believe Arsenal can consider to prevent being overrun. In a different way, it feels like this match could be won or lost in the midfield spaces, which leaves Arteta to decide if its better to try and slow the game down and possess to prevent it turning into a track meet or aim match the physical play and pace of with Arsenal’s own quality.

Whether Arteta selected Jorginho because he felt he was the right fit for the Chelsea match, for the ex-Chelsea narrative, or because Partey wasn’t 100% fit, the result was clear: Arsenal played a slower, more controlled and dominant possessive game.

If there is one thing Jorginho can offer Arsenal, it’s the ability to dictate a match’s tempo on the ball. He brings a level of control and experienced composure to the side, and versus Chelsea it yielded a composed, dominant attack. This could see Arsenal take the sting out of this humming attack and pin Newcastle in their own defensive areas.

The downside is that Jorginho isn’t going likely to physically impose himself or athletically blow anyone’s mind. His experience puts him in the right places positionally, but a match script has to lend itself to his style or I fear he could get lost.

On the other hand, Partey is probably Arsenal’s preferred midfielder, offering that physical presence and mobility to better contend with the likes of Guimaraes, Willock, and Joelinton. He played well in Arsenal’s home leg versus Newcastle, despite the result never materializing, and obviously has an ability to put his fingerprints on an away win.

The part that brings this decision into question revolves around the state of his form. For a few weeks now, Partey’s game has been off. The Partey that has been Arsenal’s standout defensive midfielder has gone missing and been replaced by one that couldn’t contend with Manchester City in transition, hasn’t been on his game passing, and stands to be overrun and out-dueled on a bad day.

As I said before, answering this question may come down to who is sitting behind the #6 role. If it’s Holding and Kiwior or an ad hoc pairing, the question may answer itself: get more natural athletic protection in front of it.

But if it’s the technically secure and more physically astute pairing of Kiwior and Gabriel, a pair I thought looked at least decent versus Chelsea, Arteta may look to slow this match down and flex his hot hands around.

I fear what stands to happen if Arsenal let this hot Newcastle team, at home, with their boisterous fan base riled, hit fourth or fifth gear. In the home leg, Arsenal dominated possession and pinned Newcastle into their defensive third for ~66% of the match. A task far more difficult on the road, but at least a fact that should give Arsenal confidence in their ability to dictate this match.

Arsenal are a very good team on the road but Arteta will have to get this selection right to control the tempo of this top 3 matchup.

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