Newcastle vs Arsenal: Gunners must avenge Tyneside hiding to prove title bid is still alive
Mikel Arteta and his Arsenal players have spoken a lot about their new mental strength this season. Sunday’s game at Newcastle is the moment to show it.
Actions speak louder than words and Arsenal will probably head to St James’ Park knowing defeat could be terminal to their title ambitions.
Should Manchester City beat Leeds at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, then they will open up a four-point lead at the top and leave Arsenal with no margin for error in the north-east.
The Gunners have bad memories of St James’ Park. It was there in May at the end of last season that defeat all-but ended their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
Like this weekend, Arsenal also needed a win at Newcastle — back then they were battling with Tottenham to finish fourth. Having just lost at Spurs, they slumped to a 2-0 defeat and ultimately missed out on a top-four spot.
After producing one of their worst performances of the season, their mentality was questioned.
“We did not deserve to be on the pitch,” blasted midfielder Granit Xhaka. “What happened was a disastrous performance. If someone is not ready for this game, then stay at home. We need people who have the balls to come here and play.”
Arteta was equally scathing in a remarkable foul-mouthed rant at his players in the dressing room which was captured by Amazon’s All or Nothing cameras. A furious Arteta told the players to “shut your mouth and eat it”, as he lambasted their “f*****g unacceptable” performance.
For much of this season, Arsenal have looked a different team to the one that crumbled that night and they have used the pain of that defeat as fuel.
Back on Tyneside for the first time since then, their new mentality will be truly put to the test. Like last season, Arteta has defensive issues ahead of this game. William Saliba is set to miss out due to his nagging back problem, while Gabriel is likely to be fit despite limping off with an ankle problem in Tuesday’s win over Chelsea.
That is not ideal, given how Newcastle’s attack is flying right now. Eddie Howe’s side have scored 13 goals in their last three games, including six against Tottenham, with strikers Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson contributing seven of them.
Spurs were blown away at St James’ Park two weeks ago and Arsenal can expect a hostile atmosphere as Newcastle close in on Champions League qualification.
Given their attacking power, Arteta will need to think carefully about his team. Jorginho was brought into the side for the Chelsea win and his vast experience could be valuable.
Arsenal need leaders for a game like this and it is part of the reason why Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko were signed.
The pair won the Premier League four times at Manchester City and have helped this young Arsenal squad cope with the pressures of a title race.
From his first day at Arsenal, Zinchenko told the squad they are good enough to win the Premier League and, more recently, Jesus has urged the players to enjoy the run-in.
Arsenal have lost control of the title race and need to be at their best to avoid another painful trip to St James’ Park.