Arsenal, St. James’ Park
Saturday 4th November, 5:30PM
Live on SKY SPORTS
After beating one red team in midweek, the Mags face another on home turf in the form of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. A tricky team for us in the past decades, but Lee Forster fancies our chances (ish)…
Admit it, you’re still on a massive fucking high aren’t you?
As Matthew Philpotts so brilliantly articulated in his match report, Wednesday night’s victory was another in an ever growing list of Eddie-Howe-inspired masterclasses that we have witnessed over the past two years, each of which will live long in the memory of Mags far and wide.
And yet, as 7,000 of us joyfully sang our way out of Old Trafford, Eddie Howe was already in front of the cameras, diverting all of the praise coming his way in the direction of his players, whilst confirming that his focus had already moved onto the next challenge: Saturday night’s game against Arsenal.
I utterly adore the fact that our manager has no time for over-celebrating one-off victories – no matter how big they may be – as if he’d just won the Champions League. There are no frantic, maniacal touchline celebrations in the face of the opposition’s bench; instead, what we see is complete and utter self-control, interspersed only with the odd high-five with Mad Dog.
Eddie Howe, let me tell you my fellow Mag, is a manager who is quietly, unassumingly, and respectfully etching his way into NUFC folklore; an approach that is night-and-day when compared to the next manager he will test his mettle against this, coming Saturday evening…
Don’t get me wrong, Mikel Arteta has built a fantastic side at Arsenal; of this there can be no doubt. However, in the process of doing so, he has become one of the most dislikable managerial characters in the Premier League. His touchline histrionics see him aggressively challenging Jürgen Klopp in the ‘who can behave like the biggest prick in the Premier League?’ contest. It’s safe to say that, in Mikel’s mind, he is exempt from the Premier League’s ‘Respect’ campaign and any rules that govern behaviour in the technical area.
If rumours are true that he spent a weekend negotiating with Charnley following Rafa’s departure – only to turn the gig down due to limitations (re: his backroom team) – I’m of the opinion that we dodged a bullet.
Anyway, enough of my dislike for the North London Legohead, and onto on-field matters…
Despite Wednesday’s reverse at West Ham, Arsenal will rock up on Barrack Road on Saturday evening in fine fettle. Having exceeded all expectations last season as they finished only 5 points behind Man City, they added over £200m worth of talent to their ranks in the summer in the form of Jurrien Timber (Ajax), Kai Havertz (Chelsea) and the imperious Declan Rice (West Ham).
This outlay has seen them, almost inevitably, carry on their upward trajectory. They arrive in NE1 sitting second and undefeated in the PL, with their victory at home to Man City in early October demonstrating why they are widely regarded as genuine title contenders this season.
Rotation was apparently the order of the day on Wednesday, with Arteta also making wholesale changes to his line-up and as a result, we should expect to see Raya, Saliba, Rice, Saka, Martinelli and Ødegaard return to their starting 11.
Despite the return of Saka and Martinelli, I firmly believe that this game will be won or lost in the middle of the park: Rice and Ødegaard coupled with Havertz or Jorginho is one of the strongest midfields the Premier League has to offer. Therefore, it is fortunate that, despite the loss of Sandro Tonali, we possess one of the few midfields in the country that has the ability and legs to match them.
In Sean Longstaff, we have a player improving with every single game (surely he will be recognised with a call up to the England squad at some point?). Wednesday night saw Joelinton look to have regained both his fitness and form, as he outperformed his Brazilian counterpart Casimero to such an extent that he was embarrassingly hooked at half-time.
Add to this Bruno Guimarães, who is almost unrecognisable from the player we saw at the start of the season, and the option of the once-again marauding Joe Willock and we potentially have a midfield battle for the ages on our hands. If we can nullify Ødegaard (the difference between the sides at SJP back in May) and our chosen triumvirate perform to the levels of which they are capable, the game is there to be won IMO.
However, from a prediction POV, I am going to err on the side of caution and plump for a 1-1 draw, with each side winning one half. Years of painful experience tells me that Newcastle United simply don’t beat Manchester United and Arsenal in the same week, do they? Well, to quote Matthew Philpotts, “Every time you think it can’t get better, it does”.
Let’s hope that, on Saturday night, Mikel Arteta and his Arsenal side join the ever-growing list of Eddie-Howe-generated masterclasses that we will look back on in years to come.
Lee Forster @LeeDForster