Arsenal to play weakened team against Newcastle United? Everything points to it
Arsenal got lucky on Thursday night.
Going 2-0 down and Villarreal by far the better team, Pepe got a very valuable goal from the penalty spot.
Arsenal only had one other effort on target in the entire game.
If the tie had been lost in this first leg then that would be Arsenal’s season over.
This is how the Premier League table currently looks ahead of Sunday’s match at St James Park:
As you can see, with only five matches to go, the Gunners in tenth place, twelve points off top four and eight points off top six, so basically no chance of qualifying through the Premier League for the Europa League, never mind Champions League football.
You can’t help but laugh at the Arsenal fans who campaigned for years to force Arsene Wenger out because he ‘only’ got them top four and Champions League football every season. A remarkable twenty seasons in a row Arsenal finished top four under Wenger, as well as Premier League titles, Arsene Wenger also won the FA Cup seven times – including three times in his final five seasons.
It is hilarious as well that currently tenth placed Arsenal wanted to appoint themselves as one of the elite forever more, thankfully though the European Super League stopped in its tracks, at least for now…
It was 25 years since Arsenal finished below sixth in the Premier League, only for Mikel Arteta to end last season eighth, as things stand they are far more likely to now finish bottom half of the table (Villa a point behind and game in hand) than even matching last season’s league position, as the Gunners are currently six points off eighth.
A proper reality check for Arsenal fans who most definitely should have been careful in what they wished for when forcing Arsene Wenger out.
The only chance Mikel Arteta has of turning this season around, is by winning the Europa League and getting Champions League qualification. To not even get to the final would be disastrous for the Gunners, Man Utd seemingly waiting for them in the final now after beating Roma 6-2 last night at Old Trafford.
I think it isn’t a case of whether Arteta will play a weakened side against Newcastle United, more a case of just how weakened.
This Newcastle match falls in between the two legs of Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final and interesting to see just how many changes the Arsenal boss makes.
The Arsenal starting eleven who lost 2-1 away at Villarreal last night:
Leno, Chambers, Holding, Mari, Xhaka, Partey, Ceballos, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Odegaard Saka
Subs: Ryan, Okonkwo, Bellerin, Gabriel, David Luiz, Cedric, Elneny, Nketiah, Nelson, Willian, Aubameyang, Martinelli
Mikel Arteta played with a false number nine in Pepe, choosing to play the winger in that role rather than having Aubameyang on the pitch.
Lacazette is on his way back from injury along with Tierney and Arsenal hope to have the pair back for the semi-final second leg, so little chance I think that either of them would be risked even if they were available against Newcastle.
Obviously, you look at the Arsenal bench and you see their strength in depth, the reality is that they have a lot of good players but not many outstanding ones these days. In effect, they could play two different teams and maybe not a huge difference in quality, something which we may well see tested on Sunday, if Arteta goes full on with his changes to the team in protecting players for Thursday.
The strength in depth of good players at Arsenal is further shown by the likes of Maitland-Niles and Willock out on loan. Joe Willock can’t play this weekend having scored and saved Steve Bruce in three of the last four matches, despite the Head Coach dropping him to the bench.
Newcastle United need to get at this weakened and significantly demoralised Arsenal team on Sunday, sitting off them and letting them dictate play shouldn’t be an option. Even for Steve Bruce.
At the end of the season you want to avoid teams who have everything to play for in the league and Arsenal are the polar opposite of that.
Newcastle have only beaten Arsenal once in the entire Mike Ashley era and Steve Bruce has an excellent chance of repeating Rafa Benitez’ win in 2018 at St James Park, the focus has to be on attack and getting into the Gunners from the first whistle. If so, I think Newcastle fans will be celebrating with three points on Sunday afternoon.
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