Arsenal vs. Newcastle: 10 Bold Predictions for a Tough Game
Riding a wave of momentum after three consecutive victories, Arsenal will host Newcastle on Monday night in a clash of Champions League hopefuls.
The first meeting between the two sides this season was actually the Premier League opener at St. James' Park (back when the stadium still had its historic name). Controversy ensued, as Joey Barton performed his usual thuggery and Gervinho got sent off in a 0-0 draw.
Both teams are strikingly different from the ones that squared off on Tyneside way back in August, but both are improbably fighting for Champions League spots.
An Arsenal win will incredibly bring them just one single point behind Tottenham's best team in memory. And if the Magpies emerge victorious, they will be only two points behind the Gunners and Chelsea in fourth place—in other words, Champions League dreamland.
Here are 10 bold predictions for a very big game.
Someone Will Get Sent off
In each of the last two meetings between Arsenal and Newcastle, a player has received a red card.
Both were, incidentally, Arsenal players. Abou Diaby's sending off last season precipitated the Magpies' incredible four-goal comeback, and Gervinho unjustly got red carded after Joey Barton assaulted him in the penalty area.
Somewhat less memorably, Laurent Koscielny was dismissed in the 90th minute of the last matchup between the two teams at the Emirates Stadium, in which Andy Carroll of all people netted the winner in a 1-0 victory for the Toon back when he could still score.
Thankfully, Barton no longer plays for Newcastle, but this will be a very intense game for players in both shirts. The stakes are very high due to the ongoing race for Champions League qualification, and every player will give full effort to win this six-pointer.
At some point, tempers and frustrations will flare, and that will lead to at least one dismissal.
There Will Be Goals
This match features two of the best strikers this season in the Premier League, as Robin van Persie and Demba Ba just cannot stop scoring.
Both men have overcome nagging injury problems to stay fit and extremely productive this season, and both are the primary reasons why their clubs have come as far as they have.
Few expected Ba, whom Newcastle took a punt on when he was sold by West Ham for literally nothing last summer, to be so prolific, scoring 16 league goals out of his team's total of 39.
And there is few that anyone can say about van Persie's incredible season that has not already been stated. The Dutchman's 25 league goals lead the Prem by some distance, and the captain's contributions have truly been historic.
At least one of these men should get a goal on Monday.
Returning Players Will Have an Impact
The injury crisis that has gripped Arsenal's midfield recently is thankfully going to be alleviated by the returns of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey to the center of the pitch.
Whenever the former is absent, the Gunners seem to miss his metronomic presence and wide passing range. The fact that he has recovered in a little over a week from being knocked unconscious by Jordan Henderson is remarkable, but he will need to quickly play at a high level.
Meanwhile, Welshman Aaron Ramsey had improved significantly in recent weeks, overcoming fatigue that plagued him during the harsh winter months before an ankle injury ruled him out for a few games.
Having Ramsey fresh and ready to resume action will add crucial depth to a midfield that will be missing Yossi Benayoun, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin. His work ethic and attacking verve will prove valuable against a scrappy Newcastle side.
Fatigue Will Be a Factor
At this stage of the season, no player who starts routinely operates at full fitness. But Arsenal will perhaps be more tired than usual having played a very high-intensity match against AC Milan in midweek after giving their all against Liverpool last weekend.
Meanwhile, Newcastle have not played a match in eight days and will be fully rested for what will be a very tenacious match between two sides who need points.
A strategy that the Gunners employed to great effect against Milan was to press high up the field, and it greatly unsettled the Italians in the first half, when they let in three goals.
If Arsenal want to execute that strategy again, they will need to be fully fit and ready to spend a lot of energy without the ball.
Wojciech Szczesny Will Shine (again)
After slipping slightly in January and parts of February, the Pole in goal, Wojciech Szczesny, has delivered some of the best goalkeeping performances of the season in recent games.
His display against Liverpool a week ago was nothing short of masterful, and he repeatedly showed admirable mental fortitude en route to shutting out AC Milan, who threw the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho at the Arsenal goal.
Of course, he has been put in these positions because of the somewhat leaky defence in front of him that, in my opinion, is missing the stabilizing force of Per Mertesacker.
It is unlikely that Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Co. will substantially improve on tired legs, so I expect Wojciech Szczesny to display once again why he can be one of the greats during the next decade.
The Newcastle Midfield Will Be Busy
Other than Demba Ba, the primary reason for Newcastle's success this season has been their superb midfield.
The likes of Cheik Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Hatem Ben Arfa and Johan Cabaye have created a formidable and creative rotation of midfielders who can boss the game at times.
Ba, after all, is a striker who depends heavily on service, and a significant reason for his prolific output this year has been superb midfield play, which has given him the passes he needs in order to score.
If Arsenal want to quell the Magpies' attacking train, they will have to cool the engine room, which will not be an easy task.
Tim Krul Will Have a Bus in Front of Him
Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini is one of the most skilled organizers in the Premier League, and his skills will be truly put to the test against an Arsenal side in great form.
I expect he and Alan Pardew to go with the same course of action that many sides choose against the Arsenal attack—a large, stationary bus.
Yes, "parking the bus," as it is so often called, is one of the most negative tactics in football, but it has often been proven to work against Arsenal when the Gunners run out of ideas.
Because Newcastle will be in a very poor position to qualify for the Champions League if they do not at least get one point from this match, I expect very, shall we say, "conservative" tactics from the Toon when they do not have possession of the ball.
Tomas Rosicky Will Continue His Rise
Arguably the most important player in Arsenal's recent resurrection has been a Czech midfielder whom everyone had written off as deadwood.
That man, of course, is Tomas Rosicky, who, after scoring two goals in two years in all competitions, netted against Tottenham Hotspur to give the Gunners the lead and hit another beauty against AC Milan.
Rosicky's attacking impetus has been an enormous boost to Arsenal's midfield, and when he is not spraying passes all over the pitch, he is making incisive runs to jump start attacks.
Look for his excellent run of form to continue during the Newcastle match. When Rosicky plays well, the whole team elevates its performance with him.
Theo Walcott Will Be Theo Walcott
We all know how dangerous Theo Walcott can be, and we tend to forget the fact that he can singlehandedly win matches when he is on form.
Usually, though, Walcott is yelling at his teammates from his position on the right wing and generally being a one-dimensional, ineffective player.
When teams play a deep line against Arsenal, he can't make the penetrating runs that earn him his substantial salary, and I expect a very defensive Newcastle to neutralize the English winger thusly.
However, I do not think anyone would be surprised if Walcott scored one or two brilliant goals during an otherwise abysmal performance. This is not a player that fans' nails appreciate.
Arsenal Will Win
Despite the fact that Newcastle will travel to London a determined side with equal measure of creativity and resolve, I believe that Arsenal have what it takes to emerge victorious.
The Gunners have perhaps more momentum and motivation than they have had all season, as a win would improbably move them an inch away from third place—Tottenham's long-held League position.
And if Arsenal lose, parity with Chelsea will be restored. A loss by more than one goal will actually vault the Blues into the coveted fourth-place position.
Ultimately, it will be a stressful game in the last of a sequence of massive matches for the Gunners. If they can close their run with strength and decisiveness, it will put Arsenal in the driver's seat in that essential quest for Champions League qualification.
I foresee a 2-1 victory to give the team even more confidence before they head to Goodison Park to play Everton on the 21st.