Sunday, April 15 – 1:30p.m Local time – St James’ Park, Newcastle, United Kingdom
It was a prevalent feeling of pain and regret when Arsenal met with CSKA Moscow for the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final on Thursday. The Gunners found themselves trailing the game by two goals after a soft-centered start to the second tier European encounter in the Russian Capital.
Fedor Chalov put the hosts ahead during the closing stages of the first half, before Kirill Nababkin doubled the advantage for CSKA to pile the pressure on Arsene Wenger’s charges.
Arsenal were given no respite, as a stellar CSKA side attempted to alter the course of the fixture, by threatening to draw the aggregate score level with waves of attacks. Aleksandr Golovin launched a textbook free-kick that was goal bound but the experienced Petr Cech was equal to the task, while Sergei Ignashevich’s attempt on goal went narrowly wide of the mark in a spell where the Gunners were hanging on for survival.
The Premier League side finally sprung into life by fashioning their first attempt on goal in the 70th minute through Laurent Koscielny, but it was Danny Welbeck who struck five minutes later to restore Arsenal’s commanding lead on aggregate.
The goal dislodged the Russians, who couldn’t douse the flames, as a clearly infused Arsenal side drew level through Aaron Ramsey at the very end of the match, inevitably dumping Viktor Goncharenko’s charges out of the competition with a 6-3 win on aggregate.
The Gunners will nonetheless have little recovery time, as they are set for yet another testing performance on the road; this time round against Newcastle United in the Premier League.
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It’s safe to say that the Magpies have finally held a firm grip in the EPL, after a season-long stay in the Championship during the 2016/17 campaign.
Although they struggled to gain a foothold in top flight during the first half of the season, the decision to stick with Rafa Benitez has reaped massive dividends, as the Magpies have moved from the relegation zone and into the top half of the table.
Newcastle are currently 10th on the standings with 38 points, and could even launch a daring move for a place in Europe, in the six remaining fixtures before the curtain closes on the current campaign.
Arsenal on the other hand are incredibly poised to finish worse that they did last season, despite making key signing in Alexandre Lacazette last English summer, and the pair of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January.
The Gunners are currently sixth on the table with 54 points, 13 points from the last Champions League qualification spot, and an unforgivable 30 points behind champions in waiting Manchester City.
The Premier League log unfortunately reveals Arsenal’s true place in the hierarchy, and is evidence of just how far Arsene Wenger has fallen behind in the pecking order.
The Arsenal gaffer has seemingly resigned on pushing for a top four finish, and rightly so, a move that has seen the French veteran place all his proverbial eggs in the Europa League basket.
It’s not the worst of ideas, as it would be basically cutting the corner to get to the front of the line. What’s more, it is a tried and tested technique that worked for Manchester United last season, and Sevilla who have dominated the second tier European competition in recent times.
The outstanding difference that sets Arsenal apart from Manchester United’s successful campaign last season however is, whilst United won it dirty by predominantly ‘parking the bus’, the Gunners have been outscoring their opponents, and are currently the highest goal scorers in the competition.
Former Atletico Madrid fullback Games is the only injury concern for Rafael Benitez in the build up to the match, having been on the treatment table with an ankle injury, although his participation would still be in doubt seeing as he hasn’t featured much this season.
The visitors on the other hand have a number of injury concerns that Arsene Wenger will be wary of as he approaches the final stretch of the season.
Jack Wilshere will have to be assessed after being hauled off in the second half against CSKA Moscow with an injury, whereas Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), Santi Cazorla (calf) and David Ospina (ankle) are ruled out of the tie.
Granit Xhaka fell ill and will be monitored having missed the trip to Russia, but Mohamed Elneny is assuredly available after his red card against Southampton last weekend was overturned by the FA.
Newcastle vs. Arsenal Match prediction
Arsenal may have long resigned in their quest for at least a fourth place finish, but Arsene Wenger isn’t the kind of manager to throw a match away.
St James’ Park has been a tough place to play for visiting teams this season, and the Magpies have won three of their last four home games, including a bullish 1-0 win over Manchester United in February.
Fresh off a 2-1 win away to Leicester City and well rested during the week, Newcastle should give Arsenal a run for their money.
Prediction: Both teams to score – -166.67 on William Hill
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal recent results
Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle (December 16, 2017)
Mesut Ozil 23′
Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle (January 2, 2016)
Laurent Koscielny 72′
Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (August 29, 2015)
Fabricio Coloccini 52′ (OG)
Newcastle 1-2 Arsenal (March 21, 2015)
Moussa Sissoko 48′
Olivier Giroud 24′, 28′
Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle (December 13, 2014)
Olivier Giroud 15′, 58′
Santi Cazorla 54, 88′ (P)
Ayoze Perez 63′