Monday, May 20, 2024

The big games keep coming …

Every game in the Premier League is a big game, but this season that’s more true than it has been for a long time.

Tonight’s encounter with Newcastle is a first versus third match, and the stakes go beyond extending a lead over a close challenger. If Arsenal take three points later on, we would move 12 points beyond tonight’s opposition, and 10 beyond Man City who don’t play again until Thursday when they face Chelsea.

That is opportunity writ large. With that comes some pressure, but so far this season this side has responded well to these kinds of scenarios. When City have dropped points, there’s extra pressure because of what it means, and we’ve dealt with it. When City have closed the gap, there’s extra pressure because of the fact everyone considers them the favourites, and we’ve dealt with it. This is a bit different, but make no mistake, the manager and the players will know how much there is to play for.

In terms of our own team, I don’t expect anything different from the starting XI that Mikel Arteta picked against Brighton. The full-back subs he made on 60 minutes in that game caused us a little instability, but I think they were made with tonight in mind. Similarly, Thomas Partey being withdrawn as soon as it went to 4-1 told you this was about managing minutes for important players.

The sight of Emile Smith Rowe in full training is a very welcome one, and hopefully he’s ready enough to make the bench. It’s clear we still lack some depth, but adding last season’s second highest scorer to the squad will give us a bit more of that. It just remains to be seen how quickly he can get up to speed after playing just 47 minutes of first team football so far this season.

As for Newcastle, they arrive tonight with the best defensive record in the Premier League, and we know they’ll be a tough nut to crack. I think it’s fair to say Eddie Howe has done a very good job since he took over, and like every manager he has spent money to improve his squad. It’s just that the provenance of that money is different, and not something we should ignore. I think we’re about to embark on an era when a club like Newcastle start to morph into something else. Think about the enmity you have for Chelsea or even Man City whose facade of sleek, ultra-professionalism is all a front for something else.

We haven’t got there yet with Newcastle, but it’s coming. There’s an inevitability about it. It can’t be any other way. They will dig deep into the Saudi Public Investment Fund to spend big, and they will skew and distort the market for everyone else while doing so. Most of their fans won’t care, but this is a club that will try to become the PSG of England. These are no plucky underdogs with an innocent, fresh-faced English manager. The sooner attitudes change towards them, the better.

I don’t think that will be any part of Mikel Arteta’s team-talk this evening, but if it can feed into the atmosphere at our place, all the better. I hope within the side there’s a sense that we need to put right the game at St James’ Park last season. That one hurt, and while it was mostly down to us running out of fuel and fit players at the end of the season, Arteta’s fury afterwards was evident in All Or Nothing. It it stung then, it will be something he won’t have forgotten.

The Brighton game saw us wobble a bit in the second half. Hopefully it’s that perfect scenario where the problems you have don’t cost you points, because you’ve done other stuff well. I suspect tonight’s game will be quite a tight one. I doubt we’ll have four goals to offset any defensive lapses, so it’s important we tighten up. Newcastle will be energetic and press high; we have to be precise with how we deal with that. If we do, as the last two games have shown, this is a team that can exploit space with real ruthlessness, and we have a front four that are in the mood for goals.

Fingers crossed.

For more on this one, and some wider discussion about Premier League Norwegians, check out the preview podcast over on Patreon.

As ever, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game for you, and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. Until then.

Come on you reds!

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