Match Preview: Newcastle V Arsenal; Find a New Tune Upon Tyne
Arsenal’s visit to Newcastle United on Saturday will challenge the Gunners to get unblocked in front of goal.
The major similarity between this campaign’s first three matches and previous seasons’ starts has been the Gunners’ ineffectiveness in front of goal. In general, Arsenal have been much more active offensively, taking 61 shots. (As 7AM Kickoff points out here, Arsenal have the highest shot total of any club in a top-five European league.)
A substantial majority of those shots (41) has come from within the opposition penalty area; that’s more dangerous shooting than Arsenal have produced during the first three matches of any of the past five seasons, according to the FourFourTwo StatsZone app. The overall result has been 18 shots on goal in three matches, a high absolute number by the standards of the past five seasons’ starts.
The problem is Arsenal’s low proportion of shots on frame. By managing just 30 percent of shots on goal in its first three matches, the team has, for the fifth time in the past six seasons, failed to put more than 35 percent of its shots on target. By contrast, over the full 2014-15 season, Arsenal put 37 of its shots on goal.
Newcastle is a tricky opponent under these circumstances. The Magpies have allowed 53 shots in three matches, with 18 of those (34 percent) on goal; they’ve blocked 19 shots (36 percent), including eight last weekend when they held Manchester United to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
Given this dynamic, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger may make some changes to his attacking lineup. He has the speedy options of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to unsettle the Newcastle defense, which has been already troubled by the quickness of Swansea’s Jefferson Montero and Manchester United’s Memphis DePay.
Wenger could also add some zest from the midfield in recognition that Newcastle have not presented much of a scoring threat: Their 25 shots rank lowest in the Premier League. This might tempt Wenger to move Aaron Ramsey from his spot upfield into one of the central midfield positions.
The riskiness of that decision depends in large part on the health of Arsenal’s two first-choice center backs. At last report, Per Mertesacker remained ill, and Laurent Koscielny faced a fitness test on his back. Some accounts suggest that Koscielny trained with the first team on Friday and should replace Calum Chambers in Arsenal’s lineup at Newcastle.
Would that provide enough stability for Wenger to break up the central midfield pair of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla?
Or, perhaps more to the point, does Mertesacker’s continued absence dictate the retention of Cazorla to aid Arsenal’s transition from defense to attack? Without Mertesacker’s clever passing, Arsenal probably need Cazorla’s trickery to move quickly upfield.
But Cazorla doesn’t offer the threat on goal that Ramsey does from the center of midfield. Cazorla’s two shots on goal in six attempts in the first three matches are in line with the team’s ineffective rate thus far.
Whatever players Wenger sends out early Saturday, bucking the trend and (re)discovering the knack in front of goal will be the charge. Another scoreless display will intensify the questions.
Players to Watch
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez. Much like opponents in the second half of the 2014-15 season, Liverpool focused on jamming Alexis’s approaches to dangerous areas as the key to thwarting Arsenal’s attack. He might look for other ways to offer danger, such as switching sides or leading counterattacks.
Newcastle: Florian Thauvin. Newcastle’s newest French arrival almost engineered a smash-and-grab at Old Trafford last weekend, leading a threatening late counterattack. He then scored in the third minute and notched three assists in a mid-week Capital One Cup clash against Northampton. As a starter or substitute, Thauvin presents a threat.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee), Mertesacker (infection)
Newcastle: Rivière (knee)
Referee: Andre Marriner (1M, 2Y, 0R)
Assistant Refereees: D Cann, M Perry
Fourth Official: A Taylor
UK: BT Sports: 12.45 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network: 7:45 AM EDT
Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal
Match Facts (Courtesy Opta via FourFourTwo.com):
- The Magpies have won just two of their 11 Premier League matches at St James Park in 2015 (W2 D4 L5).
- Olivier Giroud has scored eight goals in six Premier League apps against Newcastle United; more than versus any other team.
- The Frenchman has netted five headed goals against the Magpies from just five headers on target attempted.
- The Gunners are unbeaten in the last nine Premier League games against Newcastle (W7 D2), winning the last seven in a row.
- Newcastle have won none of their last eight Premier League home games against the Gunners (D4 L4).
- Newcastle have won just three of the last 28 Premier League meetings with Arsenal, though the Gunners had a player sent off on each of these three occasions.
- Arsenal have taken 19 points from the last 21 available on the road in the Premier League.
- Arsene Wenger and Steve McClaren have met 10 times as opposition coaches in the Premier League with the Englishman winning one to the Frenchman’s nine victories.
- The Gunners have failed to score in five of their last nine PL games – this after only firing a blank in one of their previous 25 games in the competition.
- Arsenal have scored the joint fewest goals (2) despite having the joint most shots (40, excl. blocked), meaning that they have a league-low shot conversion rate of 5 percent.