Newcastle-Arsenal: Threadbare defense picks itself up, weekend fears, Martinelli debate, Trippier face

While Tottenham’s 3-0 win over Arsenal in the north London derby seemed to give them momentum in the race for the top four in the Premier League, Arsenal still controlled their destiny; They win their next two matches, and they will reach the Champions League.

This is easier said than done. Rob Holding will be suspended after his red card against Tottenham, while Gabriel opted for what Mikel Arteta described as a ‘muscular problem’. Leaves Arsenal in the center of defence. They face a much-improved Newcastle whose home form is dramatically improved under new manager Eddie Howe.

the athleteArsenal writers Art de Roches and James McNolas discuss key talking points ahead of the game, with a little help from our Newcastle United writer George Culkin.

How will Arsenal lineup?

de roche: Given that this was not out of Chelsea or Tottenham, the usual 4-2-3-1 should be fine.

McNicolas: I agree. Also, I’m not sure we’ll have enough defenders to play three defense. Gabriel is probably out and holding Rob is pending.

de roche: Yes, Houlding’s suspension and Gabriel’s injury mean that most of the swing comes in the rear quad, while the front six stays the same. XI will be Ramsdell in goal; quadruple defense from Cedric, Ben White, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares; Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka in the midfield. Then Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli behind Eddie Nketiah.

McNicolas: I wouldn’t go far from that. My only change would be Emile Smith Rowe starting at Martinelli on the left – but we’ll get to that later.

I wonder if Arteta would pay some attention to dropping Xhaka in defence. He’s done that before, and spent a lot of the Spurs game filling that role, too. I wouldn’t do it personally – I think it’s very important in midfield – but there is precedent for Arteta to make that call.

Does this eleventh fill you with confidence?

McNicolas: Not exactly, no. Arsenal’s turnaround in the first half of the season was based in part on their ability to maintain the same defensive unit as Ramsdale in goal with Tomiyasso, White, Gabriel and Tierney up front. This is a far cry from the temporary defense we might see at St James’ Park.

de roche: It’s not perfect, but the defensive linemen do provide some relief. White may come back from injury, but he allows Arsenal to defend better with his speed of recovery which is key to building possession play.

Tomiyasu’s ability to play equally well with either foot does not leave much to worry about when he moves into the left central defence. Even Arteta cited it as a possibility last monthsaying: “He gives you a lot of solutions, not only because he is a right-back he can use both feet, but he can play right-back, left-back and left-back.”

“It gives you a lot of versatility and that’s how he’s been trained since he was really young.”

Making his sure decision when defending will also be vital, especially playing inside Nuno Tavares. Despite having lost moments defensively, the left-back has been instrumental to Arsenal going ahead at various points in the season and that area should feed off of his game once again.

McNicolas: I think Tomiyasu is a good complement to Tavares in this aspect. It should be noted that he also regularly plays as a centre-back on the left side for Japan. I think White and Tomiyasu are very good central midfield players – the defenders are what worries me the most.

de roche: Cedric might have a tough night facing Alain Saint-Maximin, but that’s where support comes into play. Rather than leaving him aloof, Elneny’s presence could help double it up.

McNicolas: In the same way, Xhaka can provide some support for Tavares on the other side. He did so well in the match against West Ham.

Smith Roe or Martinelli?

de roche: This was the only situation I was having an internal discussion about. Tavares and Martinelli haven’t formed a great partnership on the left flank, while Smith Roe’s ability to hold possession and speed play could prove crucial.

However, Martinelli’s ability to expand defenses is what made me choose him. The through ball between the right back and the back to chase him is incredibly effective. Against Leeds United, Xhaka was slipping on those passes while Tomiasso drifted inside from the left-back against Spurs to pass those passes.

McNicolas: She throws every week between these two. It’s true that Martinelli has been one of Arsenal’s best players over the past two games, but I’m not convinced that the chemistry between him and Tavares in that aspect is entirely correct. I also think he’s entering the game relatively recently, which could be valuable.

de roche: Last season at St James’ Park, Martinelli assisted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after receiving a wide left. This season against Newcastle, Scored after an off-court run from the right wing. This movement in the last third may be necessary.

McNicolas: You are talking to me. To be honest, I’d be satisfied with either start – both are effective alternatives, so it’s good to have a problem.

de roche: Well here.

What about Newcastle? Let’s ask George Culkin about their recent revival.

Culkin: I feel a bit stupid when I say this considering they were just beaten 5-0 by Manchester City, but the key to resurrecting Newcastle has been organisation, solidity, everyone stepping in. They have conceded more than once in every game in 2022. They have done it all without Callum Wilson, who remains their top scorer with six goals, but came on as a substitute at the Etihad Stadium and so did Kieran Trippier, whose signing statement in January. Their comeback is very exciting and gives the team a different dimension.

Kieran Trippier, Newcastle

Trippier is back for Newcastle (Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)

McNicolas: I admit, the news of Trippier’s return filled me with a sense of dread. His relationship with Tottenham and his ability to set-pieces bother me. Having looked strong on dead balls all season, Arsenal have now conceded straight from corner kicks in two consecutive games.

Rocca: It’s been an epic, miserable and luxurious season in Tyneside in one go. What clearly could hit Arsenal and their supporters as it nears its end is how high the atmosphere will be, whatever the outcome. I haven’t felt this way for a very long time.

What are the advantages of Arsenal?

de roche: Arteta did a good job of shifting the focus directly to the Newcastle game by calling Tottenham’s defeat ‘history’. The main objective should be to play the football that brought them four consecutive victories before Thursday, which is what the midfield and the attackers should do.

McNicolas: I think amid all the disappointment on Thursday night, people forget that Arsenal are still fourth, still one point behind Tottenham. This is still absolutely in their hands. Two victories and skeptics will be silenced and achieve their goal. It will be difficult, but it is achievable.

de roche: Elneny and Xhaka are a strong pair, Odegaard and Saka combine extremely well no matter who starts on the left and threatens Nketiah with the ball in front and without it. Arsenal are still in the driving seat for the top two squares, they just have to play like that.

McNicolas: Also, Tottenham will play Burnley at midday on Sunday. I expect them to win, but it’s not a forced outcome. Any drop in points will greatly enhance Arsenal’s chances.

What will you worry about over the weekend?

de roche: Arsenal’s response time, both in and after the game, is already worrying. If they gave in first, they wouldn’t be able to allow their record in these circumstances to head to 10 losses on 11. Likewise, they couldn’t afford to have this become another losing streak.

McNicolas: The last time Arsenal lost 3-0 and lost two key players, to Crystal Palace, they lost their next league match. They can’t stand it at this point. They need to go back to it directly.

de roche: If Newcastle are knocked out early, it could be a very long night. Getting started quickly and maintaining this activity all the time is a must.

Additional reporting: George Culkin

(Top image: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

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