TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) shares his breakdown of Sunday's showdown between Arsenal and Newcastle.
Arsenal v Newcastle | Sunday 16th February 2020, 16:30 | Sky Sports
Arsenal host Newcastle on Super Sunday as the Gunners look to build on an unbeaten run under Mikel Arteta, and start to convert a run of league draws into victories.
Facing the Magpies, who themselves are unbeaten since New Year’s Day, will be no easy task, with Newcastle able to welcome a number of players back from injury, as well as introduce a host of new signings into the squad.
Defensive injuries for Arsenal will give the Toon hope, with their record against the traditional top-six particularly noteworthy this term. A win over Oxford has put Newcastle into the 5th Round of the FA Cup, and consistently picking up points means the mood has improved drastically since the duos meeting on the first day of the season.
Although the underlying statistics don’t make for great reading for Steve Bruce’s side, their knack of outperforming the data is unheralded in the Premier League this season. So could it be another game where the Magpies frustrate top opposition and snatch something?
Newcastle have become a predictable side to unpick tactically this season, with Bruce willing to stick to his tried and tested 5-4-1 formation, even against lower-league opposition, and coming up against a side that look to dominate the ball, it will be no surprise to see the Toon chief approach this game in a similar fashion once more.
Averaging just 39% possession this season, Bruce has approached games against top teams in the same vain, but despite riding their luck in some, they have come out with some fantastic results, and will be hoping to frustrate the Gunners once again.
Wins against Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United, coupled with a draw against Manchester City, cannot be overlooked, and despite the underlying statistics in most of these games painting a different picture, Newcastle have come out with creditable results, and the visitors are well equipped to cause Arsenal problems.
The 5-4-1 invites the opposition on, and in particular they look to invite the full backs on, leaving space in behind for their own wing backs and wingers to exploit. This should lead to an intriguing battle down the left flank for Newcastle, with Hector Bellerin and one of Nicolas Pepe or Gabriel Martinelli tasked with creating, but also stopping the threat of Allan Saint-Maximin and Danny Rose.
Toon’s attacks down the flanks
Bellerin’s pace and Martinelli’s defensive ability does mean they are well equipped to cope with the Frenchman in particular down this flank, and should make for an intriguing battle, whilst also throwing up some potential interest on the tackles market, particularly for Arsenal.
Saint-Maximin’s return from injury offers Newcastle a key outlet on the break, as well as giving the Magpies the element of the unknown in attack. His performance against Oxford encapsulated this, and despite this being against League One opposition, the French winger should be full of confidence and will certainly cause the Arsenal backline concerns.
Miguel Almiron will operate down the right, and he will look to exploit spaces both out wide and centrally with the Paraguayan, alongside the box-to-box midfielders in central areas, expected to provide the attacking link to the target man up front, and avoid him being isolated. This role will fall to one of Andy Carroll and Joelinton, depending on fitness.
Whomever starts will up against David Luiz and most probably Shkodran Mustafi at the back, either/or will be raring to go for a physical battle. Although criticised at times, it can be a thankless task for Joelinton up top, and he is still only second to Carroll regarding aerial duels won up front, managing 5.5 for the Magpies this season.
Combating Arsenal’s threats
Injuries down the right for Newcastle has seen Isaac Hayden start as the right wing back, and his more reserved approach may help Bruce’s side up against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who cut a frustrated figure against Burnley last time out.
Although Aubameyang’s pace in behind was able to cause problems against a defensive line that at times pushed high, he was wasteful in front of goal, and the same kind of space in behind won’t be seen on Sunday, and this means that the creative job will come from those playing deeper.
With Newcastle lining up in a 5-4-1, the midfield trio in behind Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang and Martinelli will be crucial for Arsenal, and Mesut Ozil will be fundamental to any hopes the Gunners have of breaking down this compact backline. Concerningly for Arteta, Ozil struggled to impact the game last time out against Burnley, despite having the space to drift out wide, as well as impact the play in between the lines.
Visitors to sit deep
Despite his struggles, I expect Arteta to stick with the German attacker, and it will open up an interesting battle in the middle of the park between the two sets of deeper central midfielders. Granit Xhaka will be playing further forward, as he and either Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi look to unpick the Newcastle defence.
Xhaka will be picking the ball up from the two centre backs with little pressing until the ball moves into the Newcastle half, so he could rack up the passes when considering this market, whilst any lose touches from the attackers in these areas will be pounced on by the covering holding midfielders for Newcastle, so the tackles markets will be worth consideration.
Newcastle will be looking to sit and frustrate Arsenal, before utilising the counter, as has been the case in a number of their matches. Arsenal will need to play with a quick tempo, but also need to be patient against a resolute side, whilst being careful not to overcommit players out of frustration and leave them open.
It makes for an intriguing clash, but what subsequently appeals on the betting?
The betting angles
I expect a cagey affair, and as touched on above, it will take a patient approach from the Gunners to break down the Magpies. However, I do expect them to have enough.
Available at 4/5 (Coral), Arsenal to win and Under 4.5 Goals is most tempting, as even if going behind early, Bruce has shown a willingness to sit in and manage the game until late on, and this could perfectly suit Arsenal.
Despite Arsenal understandably being favourites for this clash, the Gunners are still allowing sides plenty of shooting opportunities, and I believe there is some value to be had in the Newcastle shot markets. Over 15 shots against per-game is worrying for the hosts, and does suggest that Newcastle should get opportunities against this fragile backline.
The standout option is the aforementioned Saint-Maximin, who has taken it into his own hands to start trying his luck more often with the forwards ahead of him misfiring. Averaging 1.7 shots, he attempted five against Norwich, and with spaces available to him on the break, he is an appealing option at 5/6 (Betfair) to have two or more shots.