Newcastle United-Arsenal Preview
A day of reckoning is coming soon for Arsenal, who will have to choose what they think is the best path to return to the Champions League. In the meantime, they look to avoid a fourth straight league match without a win Sunday when they host struggling Newcastle United.
While Arsene Wenger has dutifully rotated his side juggling Premier League and Europa League schedules, the hectic December fixture list has proven problematic for the Gunners (9-3-5). They have taken two points from their last three matches after a scoreless London derby at West Ham, and they have slipped to seventh in the table, though only one point out of fourth.
Still, each passing league match without a victory shrinks the margin of error, and Arsenal were profligate with chances throughout Wednesday's contest against a Hammers' side already in the thick of the relegation scrap.
"There are some draws that are frustrating, this is one of them because we had a lot of the ball and we played against 10 men," Wenger admitted to Arsenal's official website. "We lacked maybe a little bit of sharpness in the final third, we had many different good opportunities where they blocked our shots.
"It is a moment where our performances are not reflected by our results," he added. "Because against Manchester United we had 33 shots on goal but did not win the game and at Southampton we had a lot of possession and it was a similar game to (Wednesday night) basically. The table is the table but it's not a definite one today. We've just played two away games in difficult places. Let's see after Christmas and January. It's a long way to go until then."
Wenger has oscillated between three and four-man back lines, opting for four versus the Hammers. He also gave midfielder Jack Wilshire a place in the first XI and striker Olivier Giroud his first league start. The France international likely will give way to compatriot Alexander Lacazette, who entered on 82 minutes to no avail.
After slashing through Huddersfield Town for five goals on 21 shots, the Gunners have had just two in 66 during their winless run. They're also out to start a new home winning streak after Manchester United ended their 18-match unbeaten run (16-2-0) at the Emirates in all competitions.
Newcastle United (4-3-10) enter this match 16th in the table on 15 points, two clear of the drop. The Magpies have lost three on the spin and are winless in eight (0-1-7) after a 1-0 home loss to Everton on Wednesday. A gaffe by keeper Karl Darlow led to Wayne Rooney's goal just before the half-hour, and midfielder Jonjo Shelvey picked up his second ill-advised red card of the season in the waning minutes, leaving him out of this game.
But as has been the case all season with Newcastle, the talk was not of the match, but rather embattled owner Mike Ashley finally moving a step closer to selling the team. A consortium led by Amanda Staveley reportedly improved their bid to £300 million for the Tyneside club, along with some advertising purchases for Ashley's company Sports Direct, around St. James' Park.
The process has drained on the fan base and to a lesser extent manager Rafa Benitez, who is desperate for any way he can improve his club in the January window as Newcastle face the jeopardy of yo-yoing back to the Championship for a second time in three years.
"I don't have any information," Benitez told The Times about what is going on with the sale of the club.
"What I said the other day is that I need to see how much money we will have for January and that's it."
Going on the road will do Newcastle no favours as the Magpies have just two points during a six-match winless spell, shipping 13 goals in those games. Their only clean sheet outside St James' Park came in their lone road win, a 1-0 victory at Swansea City on Sept. 10.
Mohamed Diame, who was included in the first XI Wednesday while being a part-time starter, likely will take Shelvey's place in the midfield as he sits out this match and Newcastle's contest at West Ham United on Dec. 23 in what could be a six-point relegation belter.
Arsenal have won nine on the trot over Newcastle United, including a pair of 1-0 victories the last time the Magpies were in the top flight in 2015-16, and are unbeaten in the last 11 league matchups (9-2-0). They've won five straight over them at the Emirates since a 1-0 loss Nov. 7, 2010, and are 11-1-1 in their last 13 at home against Newcastle in all competitions.
Updated December 14, 2017