Arsenal title ambitions set for stress test as Newcastle kick off defining fixture run

Arsenal title ambitions set for stress test as Newcastle kick off defining fixture run

Tonight is the start of a potentially defining period for Arsenal in their bid to win the title.

The Gunners host Newcastle in the first of a tough run of six matches in which they face the four teams directly below them in the table.

That tricky spell culminates with a showdown against Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on February 15, when the top two meet for the first time this season.

Arsenal start 2023 with a seven-point lead over City but the picture at the top could quickly change given the fixtures of both sides over the next month.

Mikel Arteta’s side play Newcastle, Tottenham, Manchester United, Everton and Brentford.

Newcastle are a far different prospect to last season. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Newcastle are a far different prospect to last season. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

City face Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs (twice), Wolves and Aston Villa before they visit the Emirates.

Arsenal want to stay in the driving seat and they have started brilliantly since the World Cup, beating West Ham and Brighton over Christmas and scoring seven goals.

To further boost their title charge, the club is ready to back Arteta in the transfer market this month.

The main aim is to give Arteta more firepower in attack and talks with Shakhtar Donetsk over a deal for winger Mykhaylo Mudryk continue.

That signing would be a boost to an Arsenal side who have already amassed 43 points from 16 games, becoming only the fifth side in English top-flight history to do so.

Arteta and his players are not getting carried away, though. It is why the celebrations in the dressing room after the New Year’s Eve win against Brighton were not as raucous as those toasting in 2023 across the country.

Instead, Arteta was quickly turning his attention to Newcastle and finding a way past the best defence in the Premier League.

Arsenal have won 11 games in a row at home to Newcastle, but they are a different proposition under Eddie Howe. They have conceded just six goals in the Premier League since the start of September and are targeting Champions League qualification.

Newcastle will look to sit deep and frustrate Arsenal, hitting them on the counter with the pace of Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron.

It is a tactic that worked well at the end of last season, when Newcastle beat Arsenal 2-0 at St. James’ Park to all but end the Gunners’ hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

Arteta’s fury after that result was shown in Amazon’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, which captured the dressing room at full-time.

“Embarrassing,” said the Arsenal manager. “What happened today is f****** unacceptable and if you accept something like this, you live in a different world.

“So now shut your mouth and eat it. We could have conceded eight goals. If you see the chances you will cry. You will cry at the way that we have competed.”

Arsenal have come a long way since that defeat.

They have scored in every Premier League game since then and, even in the absence of Gabriel Jesus, their attack has fired.

Eddie Nketiah has stepped up since the World Cup, while Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have picked up where they left off before the mid-season break.

The trio have all scored in both of Arsenal’s games since the restart, but even they have been outshone by captain Martin Odegaard (left, in training yesterday).

The Norwegian is at the peak of his powers right now and there is an argument that he is currently the best player in England.

Arsenal are certainly the best team and it is amazing to think they were 18 points behind Manchester City exactly one year ago. Win tonight and they will be 10 clear of Pep Guardiola’s side.