After losing 4-1 in the reverse fixture in the December of despair that followed a brief period of hope in the prior months, Newcastle welcome Arsenal to St James’ Park three months later in a depleted, dejected, and desperate state.
So it’ll no doubt be of comfort to know that we’ve lost our last six games against Arsenal, who have averaged three strikes per match over that span of fixtures, while we’ve not even crossed the goal a game mark (and more than half of those we have scored came in the 7-3 loss). We’ve only defeated Wenger’s side twice in the last decade; Andy Carroll’s goal granting us a 1-0 away win in 2010, and a Nobby Solano effort earning a 1-0 home victory all the way back in 2005.
Arsenal have been in excellent form of late, as they sneakily edge their way into the title picture while Chelsea and Man City have begun to stumble. The Gunners have gained victory in their last five Premier League games, taking them from sixth to third, a point short of the Citizens, and seven off Chelsea.
On the other hand, Newcastle have been trying their best to drop down the table, after having established a buffer zone around eleventh place, protecting us from the rest of the top half and the relegation battle below. Three losses out of four, with a win over Villa mixed in there and a couple of draws beforehand mean we’ve taken just five points from six games, and have eroded that cushion over the rest of the bottom half to the point that West Brom and Pardew’s Palace are able to overtake us this weekend.
Newcastle have just thirteen fit senior outfield players, plus Tim Krul and Rob Elliot, to pick from. No one is returning from injury for this game, which Carver has branded “not the environment for young lads”.
With Elliot’s recent return from injury, Jak Alnwick was sent out on loan to Bradford, likely to see out the rest of his contract, which expires at the end of the season. Karl Darlow will likely take our second choice keeper spot in the summer, shunting Elliot down to third choice if he sticks around for another season.
Fabricio Coloccini’s senseless and vicious two-footed lunge at Lennon earned him a red card last time out, this will be the first of a three match ban as a result. For some reason the club tried to appeal the decision, and were rightfully rejected. This leaves us with one fit, available centre-back in the form of “Iron Mike” Williamson.
Papiss Cissé serves the second game of seven out of action, after he stupidly opted to spit back at Jonny Evans a couple of weeks ago. This has coincided with a knee injury, so he’d have been out of action for a few weeks any way.
Massadio Haïdara was hoping to make a return for this match, but it has been confirmed that he won’t quite make it, joining the likes of Mehdi Abeid and Rolando Aarons on the short-term section of our injury list.
Paul Dummett has a chance of returning towards the end of the campaign, but for all intents and purposes he might as well be lumped in with Siem de Jong, Curtis Good, Steven Taylor, and Cheick Tioté on the “out for the season” list.
Facundo Ferreyra continues to be a mystery, and is currently recovering from a slipped disk. If he ever gets fit, I have no idea if we’ll use him, but at the rate we’re losing players we may have no choice in the matter.
Oh, and at a time when we’re without a fit left-back and down to a single centre-back, Davide Santon’s loan deal to Inter Milan has become permanent, at around half the fee we paid for him in the first place. Similar to the deal which saw us sell Yanga-Mbiwa to Roma, we’ve taken a young, promising defender, failed to use them properly, and then sold them for a loss when we desperately needed them at the club.
As for Arsenal, they’ve got a bit of an injury situation going on, but it’s dwarfed by our problems. Tomas Rosicky is a doubt due to illness, while Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jack Wilshere are all out of contention.
Given our lack of left-sided defenders for the next few games, there has been talk about a change of system, and Janmaat has thrown his name in the hat for a couple of matches at centre-back. It’s tough to guess what Carver will opt for, as for the most part he’s been coasting on systems already set in place in the Pardew Era. This is his chance to f*** it all up even more spectacularly than usual against a side that loves to humiliate us when we’re kind enough to give them the chance, which is often.
I think he’ll stick with what he knows; four at the back. Janmaat in at centre-back, two of Anita, Colback, and Ryan Taylor at full-back, and then a dedicated defensive midfielder to try to account for these weaknesses, probably whichever of those three isn’t at full-back.
Another bank of four in front of that, with it likely being Gouffran or Jonás paired alongside Sissoko, who will hopefully be of more use alongside two players in the middle with more defensive duties than him, and then whichever two wingers Carver hates less this week. Perhaps Gouffran will be dropped after actively hurting the team last week, but this is Newcastle in 14/15, that doesn’t seem to be how it works.
For whatever reason Pérez seems to continue to be out in the cold, so I expect Rivière to be isolated and made a scapegoat yet again. Although with Carver kindly placing the blame on the unsupported striker for our last loss, maybe he’ll be dropped.
To be honest, I’ve no idea how we can salvage something from this with the available squad. I don’t think we can put together a viable back three, especially not against an Arsenal side that has scored at least two goals in each of their last five games.
I think I’d go with a defensive 4-3-3, with as strong a middle three as possible, the two defensive midfielders helping to protect our incredible weak back four, while also giving Sissoko a platform to do what he does from. Having Cabella and Ameobi as the wingers ensures that they will also chip in on defence with surprising efficacy, while also probably being our best attacking options in those positions, especially important as our best goal creator, Janmaat, will be largely nullified at centre-back.
We will get destroyed. Someone will get injured. Colback will get sent off. 0-5.
Where to Watch/Listen
The match is not televised live in the UK. As of writing, tickets are still on sale, but only to paid members and will not be available on general sale at all, so in order to have the privilege to pay around forty quid for a ticket to this likely s***show, you first need to stump up £35, if you haven’t already or don’t hold a season ticket. Prices start at £36 for adults, £29 seniors, £20 students & 18-21s, and £18 for under-18s. Local commentary, as always, is on BBC Newcastle, with BBC Radio 5 Live covering the game nationally, and talkSPORT overseas.
How do you think we’ll get on in this game? Have your say in our discussion thread.
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