Sunday’s Premier League programme kicks off with a blockbuster encounter between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James’ Park.
With only five rounds left, the Magpies seem destined to end a decade-long absence from European football, but the goal is to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2002/03.
Last Sunday’s come-from-behind 3-1 home victory over Southampton took Newcastle’s winning league streak to three matches, helping them maintain a six-point lead on fifth-placed Liverpool with a game in hand.
Overcoming title-bidding Arsenal would be a statement of intent as Eddie Howe’s men look to prove they can cope with the Premier League elite amid the club’s effort to sign Barcelona star Raphinha.
Newcastle decimated the Gunners’ top-four hopes with a 2-0 victory in the corresponding fixture towards the end of last season. Therefore, vengeance could be at the forefront of Mikel Arteta’s mind on Sunday.
After picking up just three points in four league matches, the London outfit returned to winning ways on Tuesday with a comfortable 3-1 home win over cross-town rivals Chelsea.
Mikel Odegaard’s first-half brace inspired Arsenal to a morale-boosting victory, yet it could be too little too late for the Gunners to bring their title quest back on track.
Despite spending most of the season at the summit, Arteta’s lads come into proceedings in second, one point behind reigning champions Manchester City, who hold a game in hand.
But they must hold up their end of the bargain to the race exciting down the final stretch, especially considering Pep Guardiola’s high-flyers are after Manchester United’s historic ‘Treble.’
It looks like a 3-0 defeat at Aston Villa in mid-April made Newcastle angry, as they’ve won their three league matches in the aftermath by an aggregate score of 13-3.
One of those triumphs was a 6-1 demolition of Arsenal’s neighbours Tottenham Hotspur in their most recent outing at St James’ Park, which extended their winning run against sides from the capital to three games.
Such an impressive record can only inspire further confidence in the Magpies camp as they aim to go unbeaten in both Premier League clashes against the Gunners in one season for the first time since 2010/11.
Fulfiling that goal would see Howe’s team become only the third side in the Premier League this term to hold Arteta’s men winless in both top-flight encounters after Man City and Southampton.
The spoils were shared in a hard-fought 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture in January, with Newcastle now keeping Arsenal at bay in back-to-back top-flight meetings after conceding in 18 straight games against them.
All pieces are seemingly in place to accommodate a moment of history as the hosts could beat the London heavyweights at home in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1996.
Player to Watch: Callum Wilson
Recurring injury problems had plagued Wilson earlier in the season, but he is now back to his best, as evidenced by his impressive scoring exploits in April.
He tallied eight goals in seven Premier League appearances last month, including three doubles.
Noni Madueke’s consolation goal for Chelsea saw Arsenal’s backline capitulate for the seventh time on the trot in the Premier League after a 3-0 victory at Fulham in early March.
But after conceding two or more goals in four consecutive league matches, it’s an improvement for the Gunners’ backline that boasts the third-best defensive away record this season (17).
Those problems at the back have played a significant role in the visitors’ rotten three-match winless Premier League run on the road (D2, L1), as many failed attempts to win as on their first 14 travels this term.
While Arteta may complain about his team’s recent defensive woes, he must be thrilled with his frontline’s formidable form that’s seen Arsenal score at least twice in nine of their last ten league games.
Given the Gunners’ penchants for packing a punch while neglecting their defensive duties, it’s hardly a surprise that their last seven Premier League contests have featured a minimum of four goals.
Player to Watch: Martin Odegaard
Odegaard’s match-winning performance against Chelsea took his seasonal tally in the Premier League to 14 goals, making him the club’s second-most prolific player in 2022/23 behind Gabriel Martinelli.
He may not have to wait long to add to his record, considering his last four away league goals have come before half-time.
Besides long-term absentees Emil Krafth and Ryan Fraser, Newcastle will be without their speed demon Allan Saint-Maximin, who faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering an injury against Brentford last month.
However, Howe will have all players that humiliated Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in the last three Premier League rounds fit to take on Arsenal.
Arteta still cannot call upon the services of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Mohamed Elneny and William Saliba, as all are in the treatment room with physical difficulties.
Gabriel Magalhaes hobbled off the pitch against Chelsea, and it’s still uncertain whether he’d be available to take this trip with the rest of the team.
Newcastle United potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Nick Pope; Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar, Sven Botman, Dan Burn; Bruno Guimaraes, Sean Longstaff, Joe Willock; Jacob Murphy, Callum Wilson, Joelinton.
Arsenal potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, Jakub Kiwior, Rob Holding, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Martin Odegaard; Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli.
We Say: Newcastle United 2-1 Arsenal
Without Saliba and possibly Gabriel, Arsenal’s underperforming backline could invite Newcastle boss Howe to take a more proactive approach, unlike his conservative set-up in the reverse fixture.
Based on the Magpies’ free-scoring form, they don’t need a second invitation to end the Gunners’ season dreams for the second year running.
While they struggled defensively themselves lately, Arteta’s mercurial attack would likely exploit every pocket of space to beat Nick Pope.
However, we think Newcastle come into this game in far better shape, and with a reverberant atmosphere at St James’ Park, we can see them upsetting Arsenal’s faltering title hopes.
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