Newcastle United welcome Arsenal to St James Park today.
A massive potential opportunity for Newcastle at last to get a win over the Gunners.
You have to go back to 2005 for when the Magpies last beat them at St James Park.
In the last 22 meetings, home and away, Newcastle have won only once.
Ben Cooper focuses on today’s opponents – In Toon Today: Newcastle United v Arsenal divided.
Who Manages Them:
The indestructible Arsene Wenger.
With his best pals in the Directors Box he never seems under any pressure, a complete contrast to almost every Newcastle manager of the current era.
In his defence, well perhaps not the best choice of words seeing as his team hasn’t got one, but a positive for anyone watching Arsenal is that his teams always try and play good football and they always have good attacking players who are worth watching.
Arsenal fans though have seen the team get progressively worse, for the last couple of years they haven’t even had that period where they win loads of games, beat some title challengers and look like they are coming together for a shot at the top. Now they are edging closer and closer to also-rans and that’s not a feeling any fan likes to put up with, especially the modern Arsenal fan, full of entitlement and who has only seen success.
As an outsider, it looks to me sixth in the league, a league cup final appearance and still in the Europa League isn’t a bad return this season, especially as all of the teams above Arsenal are good teams with big money players. On the other hand, at Newcastle we do know what it is like to see a team getting slowly worse while those at the top either ignore it, make excuses or pretend it isn’t happening. It wasn’t that long ago when I was despairing of Sir Bobby as his team finished 5th and pot-less when the reality was they could have done much better than that. As fans, we all know when something is starting to go very, very wrong.
For Arsenal, if they fail to qualify for the Champions League next season, a distinct possibility, that may be a failure too far. They might think that the availability of Enrique, Blanc and Emery, Unai not Dick, is too good a chance to pass up. Wenger himself may decide that the time is right to move to one of the teams whose money he says is destroying football, PSG, Chelsea or Real Madrid who will be looking for new managers in the summer.
He might decide to take up Fat Mike’s long-standing offer to become Director of Football at SJP, though he’ll have to get used to getting paid in Sports Direct vouchers and ALDI Cookie Dough. Either way, perhaps the most glaring fault Wenger has had over the past few years is that he has been too busy buying talented but flighty forwards to organise the sort of defensive unit which any PL winning team needs. Arsenal always concede goals, a lot of them cheap goals, and that’s one of the reasons why they lose matches. Why Wenger hasn’t gone out and bought two defensive generals is beyond me.
‘Arsene Wenger: The next Dr Who?’
Who Have They Signed?
To underline that point, Arsenal spent approaching £50million for French striker Alexandre Lacazette in the summer and then nearly £60million on a replacement in January, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. To be fair, much as I like Lacazette, Aubameyang is a different class, but spending most of your budget on two strikers who won’t play in the same team seems odd, when your first choice midfield see more of the masseuse than the manager.
Fair enough, Arsenal may have needed another striker as second choice Giroud was sold during that time and third choice Danny Welbeck is always injured until an international competition comes along and he has to get out on the pitch to join up with the England squad. Welbeck will be playing today and for the next three months before taking next season/year off to recover.
If it was a surprise that Arsenal signed Aubameyang, it was more of a surprise that the player wanted to go there. The Gabonese international is a top player, potentially he could have gone anywhere, why Arsenal? Then I heard at Dortmund he had disciplinary problems, had fallen out with everyone and regularly failed to show up on time, or at all. With that attitude, he’ll fit right in at Arsenal.
‘Aubameyang: No more Batman and Robin. More like The Joker’
In midfield Arsenal traded Alexei Sanchez for Henrikh Mkhitaryan in January. Wenger summed it up almost perfectly when he said that Arsenal had lost one world class player but gained another, he just missed the “on their day” part off the end of the sentence and neither have had many “days” since the move, with Mkhitaryan predictably injured today.
In defence, the Gunners bought Konstantinos Mavropanos from the Greek league for two million who hasn’t played this season and Sead Kolasinac from Schalke on a free who generally has played. Kolasinac was described by Theo Walcott as “an absolute animal” and could go on to be one of the best Premier League defenders. Well, we are still waiting for that to happen. Perhaps Walcott was exaggerating and knows what “an absolute animal” is, now that he’s working for that Hippo at Everton.
Either way, those defensive signings were almost insignificant tinkering with a leaking defence, given that at the same time their rivals Man City spent £200million on defenders and Liverpool £75million on one centre half, and they both had better defences than Arsenal anyway.
A Special Mention For:
The gutless midfielder might miss out today because of an injury picked up in Russia but no player epitomises Arsenal more. Potentially great, usually anonymous, our famous 4-4 draw typified the England international. Brilliant in the first half, useless in the second, he was the first of Arsenal’s players to lose his blob that day and once our goals started going in he spent more time tackling the referee than our players. Wilshire is in the last year of his contract at Arsenal and is rumoured to be open to a move to China in the summer. Ironic really, given that is what he is made of.
‘Aaron Ramsey takes Ozil, Carzola and Wilshire to the park for a picnic’
Are We Going To Win?
It is difficult to know which team Arsenal will put out today or how seriously they will take this game having seemed to have targeted the Europa League as a more realistic route back into the Champions League. The semi-final draw against Atletico Madrid, who are much better than Arsenal, perhaps means the Gunners should put all of their efforts into finishing fifth and Chelsea’s late win at Southampton makes this a game they need to win to do that.
Still, no matter their injuries or their priorities, Arsenal have enough top quality players to beat us but that isn’t really the point, Arsenal have enough top quality players to have won most of their games this season. The problems that Arsenal have are our strengths. Too many players out injured, too many players distracted by off-field issues, too many players not playing for the shirt, the team and the manager. It’s their attitude you have to question.
According to the Times, last month Arsenal’s team spirit was being destroyed by an increasing pay gap in the squad after Ozil’s reported 350K per week contract, a convenient reason for the players to blame an increasing lack of backbone.
For NUFC, the last few months have seen our character come to the fore. This seems to be a game of talented individuals who have lost their fans, against a team backed to the hilt by theirs. Their biggest weakness against our greatest strength.
Last season the Gunners were fined £300 for not having a designated captain on the pitch in one Premier League game, but it was just a technicality, they had forgotten to get one of their players to put on the armband.
This season, presumably they will be fined £300 x 38 games because they’ve never had anyone on the pitch worthy of the armband. Unlike NUFC who look like a team with a leader and a group of players standing right alongside him.
A team of leaders against a team without one, a team united against a group divided.