Arsenal can’t afford a sluggish start if they are to take all three points against Newcastle at the Emirates tonight.
Steve Bruce’s side, buoyed by the resilience they showed in the recent FA Cup clash between the sides, will doubtless be looking for more of the same when they return to north London, sitting deep and waiting for the counter or long ball up to Andy Carrol.
And, while they strategy carried plenty of risk, it’s a tried and tested style against this Arsenal side and tends to improve in application as the match wears on, the hosts begin to tire and the search for a breakthrough becomes desperate.
This time around, Arsenal won’t have the extra 30 minutes or the guarantee of heavy legs to fall back on, they are going to need to get the job done swiftly and without fuss. Ideally, they will get this one wrapped up inside the first half and spare the legs that have been run ragged since Christmas.
Much of what we do will, of course, depend on personnel. I dare say we will be a much more threatening proposition with Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Martinelli in the side but we can count on neither being 100 per cent fit and available for this one. If we have to play without them, Mikel Arteta will have to find a way to coax some extra impetus from his charges, more than what was on show in the FA Cup at any rate.
The returns of Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey, should they be ready to start, will add additional layers of quality to this side and would be genuinely exciting to see but the job, even if they do start this one, will remain the same. Early goals are a must. Newcastle are a side in the doldrums right now so let’s keep them there.
Their threat, as it was earlier this month, will certainly come on the break and the set piece could also prove problematic, improved though we are in that respect. If Carroll starts, we will need to keep him isolated in attack so that, even if he is winning headers, the second balls will drop at our feet.
Even with his threat, though, this is a match we should be looking at as an opportunity to take three points. Anything less can only be considered a failure, particularly as we had to settle for a point against Crystal Palace last week. If we can field as near to a full strength side as is available to us, though, I think we can be confident of doing the job tonight.