Arsenal Opposition Scout Report – Newcastle United
Arsenal play host to Newcastle United as both teams are aiming to put recent draws behind them. Arsenal who recently travelled to the United Arab Emirates for a warm-weather training camp will be looking to build on their 0-0 draw against Burnley. Mikel Arteta will be looking to add the cutting edge of more goals against a Newcastle side who needed extra time to battle past an impressive Oxford United in the FA Cup 4thround earlier this weak.
This scout report will analyse the overall play of Newcastle, their strengths and weaknesses as well as how Arsenal may look to tweak their tactics to best overcome the Toon.
Newcastle’s last five games in all competitions have yielded two victories and three draws. The two victories over Chelsea and Oxford United resulted in a vital 3 points and progress to the 5th round of the FA Cup. Both Arsenal and Newcastle are currently sitting on 31 points so for this season, with the latter recording eight victories to Arsenal’s six. Newcastle meanwhile have lost 10 games, whilst the Gunners have lost six. Both are in need of a victory with four clubs on 31 points along with Crystal Palace who have 30. Should results go against Arsenal, they could find themselves in 14th place, seven points off 18th placed West Ham.
Newcastle’s overall play
The way Steve Bruce has set his team up is reliant upon tight compact defending, before counter-attacking through the pace of Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron. Target man Joelinton is required to hold up the ball and help bring either the midfielders or wingers into play. Newcastle deploy a 5-2-3 in a medium block and a 5-4-1 with the wingers retracted when in a low block. Newcastle are very good shuffling from left to right, offering few gaps for threaded passes. They aim to cut the passing lanes and counter-attack quickly. The back five that remains very compact is also very adept at aerial battles.
When defending in a low block, Newcastle like to morph from their 5-2-3 formation into a 5-4-1 as they aim to defend deep with a compact and tight shape. One noticeable trait about Newcastle’s low block is Saint-Maximin. Saint Maximin’s positioning is rather poor when the ball is being progressed down the opposite flank to where he is. He finds himself in a juxtaposition – he is eager for his team to win the ball and counter-attack, but also knows his defensive responsibilities, which makes him almost try and cheat and get in a position whereby he can quickly get involved in the counter-attack, whilst also maintaining some defensive balance. Arsenal usually like to overload the left side of the pitch and if they do so, then with quick passes back inside they might be able to exploit gaps between Shelvey and Saint-Maximin.
Defensive transitions is Newcastle’s biggest weakness. A lot of the dangerous situations Newcastle find themselves in are due to them being caught when attacking and not being able to get back in their shape. Situations where Saint-Maximin and Almiron are in the opposition third and the two midfielders are unable to stop the counter-attack leaves the back 3/5 exposed. In both of Leicester’s dismantlings of Newcastle this season, Leicester were very good at getting players behind the two Newcastle midfielders. They would unlock them with neat passes and use pass-and-move combinations to drag and draw them out of position. Leicester created situations where Newcastle’s back three were backpedalling with players running in behind them, whilst also having players dribbling at them uncontested. This created a decision-making matrix which Newcastle’s defenders struggled with.
When pressing, Newcastle don’t look to counter-press or aggressively win the ball back high unless the opportunity is presentable. They prefer to deploy a 5-2-3 in a medium block and get behind the ball. The aim for Saint-Maximin and Almiron in this position is to cut passing lanes and prevent passes through their shape. The midfield two press relatively high and close to the front three. They do this as to prevent the team from becoming disjointed and stop passes which cut through the front three and negate them from the defensive phase. Newcastle often face teams who try and get lots of players between the midfield and defensive lines. This requires the midfielders to use their cover shadows to kill this space and prevent passes which cut them out of play.
Newcastle’s attack shape
Newcastle usually look to stretch their opponents through their wing-backs because they want Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin to stretch the pitch so that Almiron and Saint-Maxmin have more space in the half-channels and in the interior space. The wing-backs often start narrow then drift wide as the attacking phase progresses. When attacking a team who deploy a back four like Arsenal, Newcastle know that if they can successfully stretch the opposition shape, they can buy Joelinton more space between the centre-backs to attack crosses. Newcastle’s two midfielders like to support play by positioning themselves staggered on the edge of the opponent’s box. The centre-backs spread across the pitch and offer a constant option on the ball. Many teams have found success against Newcastle by playing two strikers against Newcastle’s back three as it helps pin them back and disengages them from the rest of the team and opens space.
When Newcastle look to counter-attack, they try to release Saint-Maximin and Almiron away in the wide positions. They look to attack behind the opponent’s winger and attack the full-back. It’s only when they are attacking with sustained pressure that they drift inside into midfield. Early on in games, the wing-backs and midfielders look to make underlapping sprints. This is to drag players away and create 1 v 1 match-ups. As well as this, it helps drag the opposition’s defensive line back and penetrate beyond the structure. Saint-Maximin likes to come inside and get a shot away on his stronger right foot while Almiron wants to directly run at his opponent in a direct sprint and either shoot or cross as the end of it.
Aside from Saint-Maximin’s positioning in their defensive shape and defensive transitions, Newcastle also struggle in 1 v 1 duels centrally. Neither Shelvey or Hayden, in particular, succeed if midfielders look to dribble at them in midfield. If Arsenal can beat these players and unlock players in the pockets between the defensive and midfield lines, then they should find success. Leicester were really good at creating numerical advantages with pass-and-move patterns through the central zones of the pitch. This drew Newcastle into uncomfortable positions and helped open up spaces for other players. Teams who also have had success against Newcastle have had runners breaking lines from deep. For example, the switch of play is made and at that moment the full-back advances to penetrate the shape and receive a first-time layoff from the winger. That player finds themselves through the lines attacking the Newcastle back five.
Attacking points of play
Newcastle tend to afford their opponents lots of time and space in front of their shape when they’re in a low block. Teams use this space to try and play balls out wide with long balls from defenders. Newcastle’s shape allows them to deny this space and prevent any progression. Arsenal need to use this space to play strong, fast passes through the lines behind the Newcastle midfielders. Clever movement and patterns which open the angle for passes will aid the effectiveness of the passing and help unlock dangerous positions – Mesut Ozil would be ideal for this. His ability to find space and pockets where he can receive the ball in is phenomenal. He can play almost as a “target man”. Another method would be through positional play: creating situations where we have players marking Newcastle’s midfielders and in the process opening the channel for passes, which would be detrimental to their shape.
In conclusion, Newcastle will most likely drop deep and play on the counter-attack. They are used to playing against teams who enjoy possession and are very comfortable at waiting for that one opportunity. Mikel Arteta must look for ways where they can disrupt and deposition the Newcastle players. By doing this they can find angles and channels to help move the ball through the Newcastle shape. Mesut Ozil could be very important to help receive the ball in dangerous positions and win fouls in good areas of the pitch.