What was Thursday’s objective has now been shifted to tonight, with it feeling like the season pretty much rests on what this young Arsenal team does tonight at St James’ Park. With the Scum bundling their way over the line at home to Burnley with yet another penalty, it moves them two points clear of us an unless we pick up all three points tonight against a tough opponent who will want to give their fans a great send off, then I think our top four ambitions are over. Norwich are relegated and they will offer no resistance against the Scum next weekend, so unless Arsenal get maximum points from these next two games it will be Europa League for us next season.
And it’s not even like we don’t have any issues to worry about aside from the pressure of having to win. The injury to Gabriel, the lack of return of Ben White and the suspension of Rob Holding means that if all three are not available, we will be fielding our right back Tomiyasu in one position and a square peg in a round hole for the other. Calling it ‘not ideal’ as I think Arteta has over this weekend, is a bit of an understatement.
The hope is that Ben White can be patched up and play. He was on the bench on Thursday and was warming up to come on before Arteta decided that it probably wasn’t worth risking him. If it is the case that he was fit enough to be on the bench then hopefully an extra few days will mean he is fit enough to start tonight. If that is the case then in Tomiyasu and White we have two players who are more than capable of holding the fort at the back. Of course if that is what we go with, it leaves the unpleasant situation of Cedric and Tavares on the flanks and that is a real weakness that Newcastle will be looking to exploit. They’ll certainly look to do that on their left hand side with Saint-Maximin and if he’s up against Cedric – which is more than likely – then you have to fear for us. If by some miracle Gabriel is fit – which I think unlikely – then you have to put Tomiyasu on that right hand side and that will be an interesting match up.
I think that’s a real outside bet though. This feels like we’re going to have those two understudy full backs and Almiron on the other side will probably also fancy his chances against Tavares.
The hope is that our needs are such that we can keep Newcastle on the back foot. If you’re going to try to look for positives it’s that they are unlikely to just sit back and soak up pressure against us. They have nothing to play for but they will want to give a good send off and I think that lack of pressure will be helpful for them and give their fans an opportunity to be in fine voice without any nerves or worry. In a way we could do with a bit of that nervousness and worry because it might play in to our hands, but there won’t be any of it this evening.
Which is why we’re going to need to see something special from our attacking line tonight I think. I think we’re going to have to see really good performances from the likes of Odegaard, Smith Rowe and Saka. I think ESR starts tonight because I think his trickery is going to be needed against Newcastle. Martinelli is the type of player you want for those lightning counters, but I don’t think that we’re going to get that much space in behind this evening and so I would be looking for the devilment of Smith Rowe on the ball, rather than the hard running of Martinelli off it. There is also a question mark on him after he hobbled off against the Scum on Wednesday. Hopefully it was just a minor knock that can see him back this evening – even if just from the bench. You get the feeling we might need to use our attacking subs at some stage.
And that is because I think we will concede this evening. We’ve been leaking a few goals lately and so I don’t see us keeping a clean sheet. So I think we’re going to need to score two, probably three, to win the game.
Arteta says he’s been delighted with the response and positivity of the team since Thursday’s defeat. I worried that a big defeat like that will have knock-on effects for the team going in to this game, but hopefully Arteta has fostered that siege mentality of everyone against us after some ‘decisions’ didn’t quite go out way, shall we say, on Thursday just gone. I hope we do see the players acting with a bit of swagger this evening, that they play like a team who has completely ignored Thursday’s defeat and is playing like they remember only the previous four – all victories against tough opponents.
And that is what tonight will be. Newcastle fans will be loud under the lights. The players will want to put on a show and they don’t have the worry of anything on the line. They also have players returning like Trippier and Wilson. So we have to respond by quietening the home crowd early, dominating the ball and putting their back line under pressure. This was the sort of game that a couple of weeks ago I’d have told you that we could and should win quite easily. But Southampton had nothing really to play for at home and we still succumbed to them. Brighton were comfortably mid table and we lost at home. And Palace dealt us a pasting when their home fans became quite raucous. So I am under no illusion that tonight’s game won’t be yet another nail biter from start to finish. But these Arsenal players know what is at stake. They know what prize they are playing for and I want to see them put it all on the line for the shirt tonight.
Go get those three points lads. Please, please, please, PLEASE get those three points.
Catch you all tomorrow.