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How Newcastle can take inspiration from Arsenal in Premier League’s tetchiest derby

Last season’s best defence has conceded 12 goals in its past five Premier League games but Newcastle have an ability to frustrate Arsenal and can reprise an old role against the title contenders

Jamie Braidwood
Saturday 24 February 2024 08:06 GMT
'Cruel' to judge Arsenal's Champions League knockout return on last-gasp Porto defeat, Arteta says

Newcastle once again have a claim to be the Premier League’s great entertainers, though it would hardly have been Eddie Howe’s plan to channel the spirit of Kevin Keegan’s 1990s side quite like this.

Newcastle may be eighth in the table but they lead the Premier League in a different category: with 94, Newcastle’s matches have featured more goals than any other team so far this season. The problem for Howe is the goals have been flying in at both ends, as illustrated by the scorelines of their last three outings: a 4-4 against Luton, a 3-2 win at Nottingham Forest and a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth. The joint-best defence in the Premier League last season has become porous this campaign, cut adrift from the top-four race.

But as Newcastle head to Arsenal, perhaps they can take some inspiration from a different sort of reputation. To Mikel Arteta and the Gunners, Newcastle have often been the great irritators and, in denying Arteta’s side, they have played the role to considerable success.

Last season, Newcastle became the first side to stop Arsenal from scoring as they held on to a 0-0 draw at the Emirates – the first crack the Gunners had displayed when they led the title race. Then, in November, Arsenal’s first league defeat of the campaign came amid controversy in the rain at St James’ Park. After Arteta escaped punishment for his post-match rant on refereeing standards, this will be the latest instalment of the Desgracia derby.

Mikel Arteta’s side suffered their first defeat of the Premier League season at Newcastle (Getty Images)

Arsenal will feel they have a score to settle, though arguments can be made on both sides as to whether this fixture has arrived at the right or wrong time. Frustrated and then stung late on by Porto on Wednesday night, Arsenal can expect to face a similar approach from Howe’s side. If Arsenal were slowed down by a stop-start game in Porto, Newcastle may look to reprise the time-wasting tactics that led to the ball being in play for just 51 minutes and 23 seconds of last season’s goalless draw – one of the lowest figures in the Premier League all year. Ironically, it was Howe’s turn to hit out at time-wasting in Arsenal’s 2-0 win at St James’ last May, but from Arteta’s team.

After all, both sides can point to the other as Arsenal vs Newcastle has developed into one of the tetchier fixtures in the Premier League: it was Kai Havertz’s wild lunge on Sean Longstaff that sparked the battle of St James’ Park earlier this season, in a contest that also should have seen Bruno Guimaraes dismissed for his forearm on Jorginho. It was in this fixture last season where the claims that Arteta and Arsenal were too emotional to maintain their title challenge really started to take on some substance but Arteta, Howe, and Howe’s assistant Jason Tindall have all played their part in winding up the tension between the dugouts.

The question now is whether the visitors are capable of producing the same defensive display that has shut out Arsenal in two of their last three meetings, a task that has become much harder with the club’s ongoing injury crisis.

Bruno Guimaraes clashed with Declan Rice earlier this season (Action Images via Reuters)
Newcastle’s previous visit to the Emirates was the last time Arsenal played out a 0-0 draw (Getty Images)

The stats paint a bleak picture of regression: since losing goalkeeper Nick Pope for four months, Newcastle have kept one clean sheet in 11 league fixtures. Howe’s side have conceded 27 goals in that run, and only Luton and Sheffield United have shipped more. Pope’s replacement, Martin Dubravka, has struggled and was culpable against Bournemouth last weekend, while Dan Burn, so impressive in much of his spell at Newcastle, has looked increasingly out of place: Howe’s giant left-back finally succumbing in his almost weekly battles against bright and tricky wingers. Targeted and tormented by Antoine Semenyo, Anthony Elanga and Chiedozie Ogbene in Newcastle’s last three games, Burn must now face Bukayo Saka, unless Howe takes him out of the firing line.

Though that would perhaps go against the Newcastle spirit. Under Howe, much of their previous defensive resilience when facing Arsenal has been built on togetherness and a collective effort, in pressing from the front and doubling up against the wide threats of Saka and Gabriel Martinelli. Howe’s defence needs to organise itself into a cohesive unit now, as Arsenal’s forwards aim to show why Wednesday’s disappointment in Portugal was just a blip. The Gunners had scored 21 goals in their previous five wins to start the year.

If that form resumes and Arsenal close the gap to leaders Liverpool to two points, there would be a particular satisfaction in cutting loose against Howe’s side, scratching their Newcastle itch.

But the Porto result and the return of Newcastle suddenly brings up some unfavourable memories, that could in turn inspire the visitors. And at the Emirates, there will be an increased incentive for the visitors to go from entertainers to frustrators once again.

Arsenal vs Newcastle United kicks off at 8pm on Saturday 24 February, coverage is on TNT Sports

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