It’s Newcastle away today, an encounter which sees both sides looking for points for different reasons. They need them to secure Champions League football for next season; we need them just in case Man City do anything unexpected.
The previous game this season played out as a 0-0 draw, a game which saw Newcastle sit very deep for most of the game, and we didn’t quite have what it took to break them down (even though we were denied a fairly obvious penalty). This time, at home and in good form, I think it’s gonna be different. They’re flying at the moment, scoring lots of goals, and I think they’ll go at us with some gusto today.
That’s the first thing we’ll have to contend with, although I’m sure this will have been part of Mikel Arteta’s preparations. As I said yesterday, I’m pretty certain he was playing down talk of revenge for last season so as not to add more fuel to the fire of a home crowd that will be well and truly up for it. Make no mistake though, last season hurt him and his players. The performance was sub-par; there were reasons for it – quite a lot of which had to do with fitness/injuries – but coming as it did, just after a North London derby defeat, it was a painful one on its own merits, on top of the impact it had on our chances of a top four finish.
This time around, the fitness issues are not quite as acute, and we’ve come to terms with the absences of Takehiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba. It doesn’t make it easier, it’s just not a surprise – like Tomi having to come after half an hour of last season’s game. The reporting on Gabriel appears to be positive this morning, so if he makes it I think it’ll be the same back four we saw against Chelsea with Jakbu Kiwior keeping his place.
The midfield decision is an interesting one. Given how Newcastle play, and what an athletic team they are, on paper Thomas Partey would be the obvious choice. However, he’s had a dip in form, and even in his late cameo on Tuesday night there was a sloppiness about his play which was a bit of a worry. Jorginho isn’t the quickest or the most mobile, but he gave us greater security on the ball against his former club. Which could hurt you more – a player being overtaken, or losing the ball in a position from which they can make a dangerous transition in our half? My gut feeling says he’ll stick with Jorginho.
The only other change I can see is Gabriel Martinelli replacing Leandro Trossard on the left. The Belgian was fine but a bit quiet the other night, and with the wide open spaces of St James’ Park for him to run into, anyone would be tempted by Martinelli. On the other side, I know Bukayo Saka hasn’t been at his best of late, but I just don’t think you can go into a game of this magnitude without him. He has little periods like this where you think he’s tired or he needs a rest, and then he sparks back into life. The potential for him to do that is so great you have to start him, I think, so let’s hope today is one of those days for him.
We will try to play the game that we want and they will want to play a very different game, that’s for sure. That was the battle when we played them at Emirates Stadium, I think we deserved to win the game. There are things that are obviously going to be different from the last game and we’re going to have to be better to earn the right to win it.
It’s always good to try and play the game you want, but I don’t think he’ll be under any illusions that we might have to play a different one to win it. As we’ve seen – and not just in our own matches – the way momentum can flip in the Premier League inside the 90 minutes is incredible, so let’s hope we can manage it as well as possible.
I think this will be one where the players involved last year do want some measure of revenge. We did it at White Hart Lane this season, Arteta has used the ‘nice kick around with the boys’ stuff before, and I think we’ll try and squeeze every ounce of motivation out of every single thing we can before this one. It will be very tough, but then that’s what it is every week at this level. Let’s hope we can do what it takes.