The first team squad has just enjoyed a week of warm-weather training in Dubai – just as they did about this time last year – and as with last year, they are welcomed back to a home fixture against Newcastle.
Last year the side clearly benefitted from the mid-season change of scenery, returning to London to beat Newcastle 2-0 with goals from Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette in a Monday night fixture.
That victory lifted us to third in the table last season, whereas this Sunday we cannot rise higher than our current position of 10th, as we are four points adrift of ninth-placed Wolves going into the weekend.
So we certainly need a lift – we’ve drawn each of our last four Premier League games, and won just two of our last 17 in the competition. We’ve also won only two of our last 10 home games in all competitions, although we have an excellent record at the Emirates during the month of February – we are yet to lose a Premier League match at home in the month since moving to the stadium in 2006.
We have also won each of our last seven home games against Newcastle, keeping clean sheets in the last three.
New signings Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares both joined up the squad in Dubai last week, and whereas the latter is still short of fitness following his loan move from Southampton, Spanish centre half Mari could yet feature this weekend.
Mikel Arteta said he is optimistic of having Mari available for the game, but cautioned: “We have to go step by step. He is a new player and I’m sure he’s very excited and wants to prove everything in three days, so we have to manage him wisely.”
The 26-year-old defender has also joined us on loan until the end of the season, from Brazilian side Flamengo, though he has not been in action since the FIFA Club World Cup final against Liverpool just before Christmas.
Should he play, he will become the 870th player to represent Arsenal’s first team, and the 14th Spaniard.
Newcastle were also active during the January transfer window, and could include new signings Nabil Bentaleb, Valentino Lazaro and Danny Rose, after all three featured in their last Premier League game – a goalless home draw with Norwich on February 1.
This Premier League matchweek is the reverse of the opening day fixture list, and a chance to see how teams have developed since August.
It goes without saying that a lot has changed around the club since we kicked off the campaign with a 1-0 win at St James’ Park.
Most notably we have a new man at the helm, with Mikel Arteta taking change of his 10th match this weekend. We’ve lost just one of those nine, but strikingly won just three, with five matches ending in stalemate.
There are definite signs of improvement though – we are unbeaten so far in 2020, and if we avoid defeat on Sunday this will be our longest unbeaten start to a calendar year since 2009 (a 13-game run).
We have scored just 32 goals so far this season from 25 Premier League games, 41 short of last season’s total with just 13 games remaining. Our rate of scoring is 1.28 per game – the lowest since the 1994/95 season.
Newcastle have also struggled for goals this term, scoring just 24 at less than a goal a game. Only Crystal Palace have netted fewer. Newcastle have also managed the fewest number of shots in the Premier League all season – 247, while Arsenal have also been relatively shot shy this campaign, with 279. Only six teams have recorded fewer.
Newcastle striker Joelinton has now gone 22 Premier League games (nearly 30 hours) without registering, but the Brazilian’s sole league goal did come in north London – away to Tottenham in August.
Our own number nine has also struggled for goals lately, without one in nine games, though Alexandre Lacazette is always dangerous at the Emirates – 25 of his 32 career Premier League goals have been scored in home games, including each of his last eight.
When Newcastle have managed to find the net recently though, the goals have tended to arrive late on.
Their last three Premier League goals have all been scored in injury-time. Florian Lejuene scored an incredible late brace (on 94 and 95 minutes) to earn a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park on January 21, just three days after former Gunner Isaac Hayden netted a 94th-minute winner at home to Chelsea.
In fact, their last three Premier League wins have all been secured with goals in the final 10 minutes.
That stat is even more relevant when you consider that five of the eight goals we have conceded so far under Mikel Arteta, have come in the final seven minutes of matches.
Newcastle even left it late in the FA Cup fourth round replay in their last outing. Allan Saint-Maximin scored the winner four minutes from the end of extra-time to eliminate Oxford.
But as Michael Cox of zonalmarkeing.net puts it: “Most striking, though, is the fact that Newcastle’s defenders have contributed 50 per cent of their Premier League goals this season, which means set-pieces could prove crucial for the away side against Arsenal.”
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