2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 Preview — West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)

West Ham United already knew they had a fight on their hands in a bid for a top-half finish while potentially contending for a spot in European play next term.

Now they have another one to keep their top striker in place ahead of Saturday’s derby at home against London rival Arsenal.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Irons (8-4-9) are currently in 10th place but only three points out of seventh, a spot that could result in a Europa League qualifying round berth depending on the Carabao Cup and FA Cup results. But an unnamed Chinese Super League club – rumoured to be Shanghai SIPG – has thrown a spanner into the works with a £35 million bid for striker Marko Arnautovic.

Arnautovic’s brother Danijel, who also represents him, went public with the Austria international’s desire for the London club to accept the offer, telling TalkSport, “He wants to go to a new market and challenge for titles. This is what he wants. It is his great desire West Ham accept the offer from China.”

West Ham, who bought Arnautovic from Stoke City for £20 million in July 2017, issued a terse statement that read: “Marko has a contract and we fully expect him to honour it. He is not for sale.”

Arnautovic is the joint-leader in goals for West Ham with eight after scoring the opener in their 2-0 FA Cup win over Birmingham City on Saturday. He nearly got into a row with Manuel Pellegrini upon his precautionary removal after 20 minutes due to a twinge in his back, but the Chilean manager would not back down from his decision given the Irons have 17 league matches remaining.

“It is not very important,” Pellegrini said post-match according to the Guardian. “It was better to change him because he is just coming back from an injury. He could continue but it was better to protect him. He was angry for one minute.”

West Ham do not have many true centre-forwards beyond Arnautovic, with Andy Carroll also rumoured to be on the move in the January window. The oft-injured Carroll scored in second-half stoppage time to seal the victory with his first goal since April.

The win also marked the debut of midfielder Samir Nasri, who arrived on West Ham on a free transfer and was eligible after serving an 18-month ban for doping. The one-time Arsenal midfielder played 58 minutes before being subbed out for Robert Snodgrass, and the expectation is the former France international will at worst be among the 18 for this contest.

Arsenal (12-5-4), who are three points behind Chelsea for fourth and three ahead of hard-charging Manchester United, also emerged unscathed in the third round of the FA Cup as they won 3-0 at Blackpool on Saturday. Joe Willock had a first-half brace as Unai Emery overturned seven of his starting XI that won 4-1 over Fulham to ring in the new year.

While West Ham are being dragged into the January transfer window, it appears the Gunners do not have much interest in it. Emery raised a few eyebrows at his Thursday news conference when he announced the club would only add players via loan in this window, which adds to the intrigue of whether midfielder Aaron Ramsey would leave this month.

Ramsey started in the win over Blackpool and has been linked with a move to Juventus, but he and Emery appear to be on the same wavelength regarding professionalism. To Emery, that makes Ramsey available for selection.

“It’s an individual situation rather than the team,” he said about Ramsey. “My idea and focus, I say to him every day, is that we need his performance for us. In the last match I was very happy with him. I asked in the last match at Blackpool if he is OK to help us play and he said, ‘Yeah, coach, I want to play’ and he played with a very big behaviour and commitment to us.

“Every day he’s here with us, he’s working very well. I want his behaviour and his focus to be on West Ham on Saturday.”

The break for the FA Cup allowed Arsenal to start working back to full health as Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Dinos Mavropanos, Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil all resumed training with the first team this week. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck all remain long-term injury absentees, with Mkhitaryan expected to resume practicing next month.

The teams have kicked on to differing levels since Emery recorded his first league win at Arsenal in the reverse fixture in late August. The Gunners ran out 3-1 winners in that match, with West Ham defender Issa Diop’s own goal on 70 minutes snapping a 1-1 deadlock. Arnautovic and Monreal traded goals five minutes apart in the first half, and Welbeck scored in stoppage time to seal the win.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce in all competitions in this derby and are unbeaten in the last seven (5-2-0) overall. The Gunners are also unbeaten in their last 11 trips (8-3-0) to east London since a 1-0 loss at Upton Park in 2006 and 18-4-1 in the last 23 overall meetings.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are 21/20 favourites to win this London derby, with West Ham 5/2 underdogs to claim all three points amid the distractions of the Arnautovic saga. There are 3/1 odds on the sides splitting the points.

Oddsmakers are overwhelmingly expecting goals, with 8/15 odds on clearing 2.5 goals compared to 6/4 going under that total. It’s also expected both teams will score, with 1/2 odds of no clean sheets compared to 6/4 with at least one.

Arsenal’s strikers Aubameyang and Lacazette lead the line for first goal-scorers at 3/1 and 4/1, respectively. The man of the moment — Arnautovic — is an 11/2 selection and top option among the Irons. Arsenal reserve Eddie Nketiah checks in at 6/1, just ahead of Carroll at 13/2, while his Hammers teammates Chicharito (13/2) and Lucas Perez (7/1) follow.

Aubameyang is a 4/6 pick to score during the match, and Lacazette is even money to do so. Arnautovic is tabbed as a 7/5 option, while Nketiah again pips Carroll and Chicharito, this time at 8/5 compared to the Irons duo at 7/4. Ozil lurks as a 2/1 anytime option and 15/2 pick to make it 0-1.

PREDICTION

Well this is less than ideal for West Ham, isn’t it? After the Chinese Super League had cooled off in recent windows regarding exorbitant offers of Premier League players, here come Shanghai to drop a haymaker of an offer for Arnautovic. The grandstanding between his agent brother and the club (though, to be fair, the club’s terse statement after his Danijels statement almost caused whiplash it came so fast) will be something to watch in the coming days or perhaps weeks.

It is unfortunate because at the very least, West Ham had the appearance of a team that looked like they had a proper 18 for league play and definitely did not lack for options in attack. One almost wonders whether they secretly wished it was Carroll and not Arnautovic being the apple of Shanghai’s eye to finally be rid of the oft-injured forward.

It almos gives the feel that Arnautovic’s anger about being lifted was premeditated, that he and his brother knew this offer was coming down the pike. That’s a conspiracy theory for another day, but something to chew on.

For Arsenal, they are near or at the point where they have their entire first-choice back four for Emery to begin seeing just how good this team can really be. And Emery deserves credit for plugging players in uncomfortable spots and pragmatically flexing between different formations to not only mask deficiencies but keep Arsenal in the hunt for a top-four spot. There is still a gulf in class to the top three, but fourth is most certainly attainable.

It would not be surprising to see Ramsey start over Ozil, but there has to be a stick-or-twist moment with the former Germany international decides he is on board or starts plotting his next move. It’s laudable to hold everyone accountable, but Emery cannot keep citing “matchups” as a reason to keep his most creative playmaker off the 18-man roster at times.

This is the first time West Ham have had to deal with an external distraction, but to Pellegrini’s credit, he did well to right the ship after a self-created one with his side’s four-loss start in league play that included the defeat at the Emirates.

Arsenal, though, look primed to take advantage of the circus around Arnautovic and should power through for three points here.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham 0, Arsenal 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)

Europa League Match Day 5 Preview — Vorskla Poltava (1-0-3, 3, -3) vs. Arsenal (3-1-0, 10, +6)

Already through to the knockout round of the Europa League, it would not be surprising if Arsenal manager Unai Emery opts to give playing time to some of his younger and second-string players as the Gunners face their second long trip in group play with Thursday’s Group E clash with Vorskla Poltava.

The match has been moved 220 miles to Kiev — west of Vorskla Poltava — due to the simmering naval tensions between the Ukraine and Russia. The challenging logistics of travel — it is a round trip of 3,000 miles — ahead of a crucial top-five clash and north London derby versus Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday means Emery could overturn a large portion of his starting XI from the side that defeated Bournemouth 2-1 last weekend.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Gunners snapped a run of three consecutive draws with their win over Bournemouth, consolidating their top-five status while closing within one point of Chelsea. Arsenal (3-1-0) are unbeaten in 17 matches overall (13-4-0) after losing their first two under Emery, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal midway through the second half proving decisive versus the Cherries.

While the late change of venue has created logistical issues for both Arsenal and their supporters — the club is trying to help make sure the estimated 500 supporters making the trip will be able to get into the stadium in Kiev — Emery seemed to take everything in stride despite the club having its travel delayed by 90 minutes.

“First of all, we need to respect Uefa’s decision because it’s not easy for Vorskla,” Emery stated at Wednesday’s press conference. “It’s not an easy decision for Uefa to make either. For us, yesterday we were preparing for our trip to Poltava and then awaiting the final decision in the evening. We made small changes in our training session in London and now we have just arrived. This decision, for us, is with all the respect.”

One player familiar with the Ukraine is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who did not make the last lengthy road trip to Qarabag due to the on-going issues between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan. Mkhitaryan, who played for Metalurg and Shakhtar Donetsk, will be looking for his second goal in three matches after netting the equaliser versus Wolverhampton on 86 minutes before the international break.

I’m very pleased to be here and I have a lot of good memories from time with Shakhtar and Metalurg, and also with the players I used to play with,” Mkhitaryan said. “I still remember the day when I scored two goals for Donetsk.”

All told, Emery could be ringing in as many as eight changes from last weekend’s side, with Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi potentially the only attacking holdovers. Sokratis is expected to retain his spot in central defence, with Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny serving as the link to the midfield in the 4-2-3-1 set-up. While Emery wants to build depth with these last two group matches, he also expects his younger charges to maintain a winning edge.

“When there are matches like tomorrow’s in a very big week for us, where we are playing a lot of matches, we have players to cover here,” Emery said, clearly eying the north London derby. “We need to give them chances. They are working with us in all the sessions and also in pre-season.

“They are coming with us because we can give them chances tomorrow and also because we would prefer for some players to not do this long travelling. We prefer for them to stay in London working for the next match on Sunday. The Europa League is very important for us and it’s very important for us to win tomorrow and come first in this group.”

Vorskla (1-0-3) still harbour hopes of advancing out of this group, though they are slim. They are four points behind Sporting for second, but need to not lose this match and hope Qarabag get a result against the Portuguese side to have something at stake in the group finale in Lisbon in a fortnight.

The Ukraine side have dropped three on the trot in all competitions as they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Mariupol on Saturday and are 17 points adrift of frontrunners Donetsk in the Ukrainian Premier League. Oleksander Zubov’s goal on 57 minutes proved to be the difference between the sides as Vorskla have now gone 321 minutes without a goal in all competitions since Najeeb Yakubu completed the scoring in the 39th minute of their 2-0 win over Lyiv on Nov. 4.

Vorskla have scored four goals in their four group matches, though two of them came at the Emirates well after the game was put of reach by Arsenal. Mkhitaryan suggested the late venue switch to Kiev may benefit Arsenal more since, “We were ready to play in Poltava, we are ready to play in Kiev. It was a long trip but it does not matter where we play. For Poltava it’s a big disadvantage because they wanted to play at home.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are even money to return to London with all three points and potentially the top spot in Group E secured depending on the result of the Qarabag-Sporting match. There are 23/10 odds for the teams to split the points in what will be frigid conditions, while Vorskla have 7/2 odds to pull off a shock scoreline and perhaps give their qualifying hopes a lifeline.

Oddsmakers are expecting a low-scoring game as there are 4/5 odds on the match finishing with less than 2.5 goals while it is even money for the match to cross that threshold. For first-goal scorers, the toteboard is in disarray since Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette did not make the trip as Emery opted to keep the pair in London ahead of the Spurs match.

Eddie Nketiah is now the top option at 6/1, with a trio of Vorskla players — da Cruz Nicolas Careca, Gegham Kadymyan, and Yuriy Kolomoets range from 13/2 to 8/1. Mkhitaryan, Emile Smith-Rowe and Aaron Ramsey are all 17/2 selections to make it 0-1 to the Arsenal.

For any-time goal-scorers, Nketiah is a 2/1 selection, but it would not be surprising to see these odds fluctuate as punters review the adjusted Gunners options. The aformentioned Arsenal trio all have 3/1 odds at finding the back of the net.

PREDICTION

The goal is really simple for Arsenal: Get a goal, get a win, make sure no one gets hurt, and get the hell out of there. It will be an intriguing challenge for the young Gunners, who could potentially be playing in a half-empty stadium, trying to deal with the frigid conditions and just the whole sub-optimal scenario that comes with the late venue switch. They will talk about it for years afterward — a good yarn for the kids and grandkids — but this is a match Emery might secretly be thrilled about post facto as no one is in their comfort zone for this match.

Vorskla has picked the absolute worst time to be in a goal drought, though they did play the full 90 minutes at the Emirates in the reverse fixture with those two goals in the final quarter-hour. The problem with that was the Ukraine side had only one shot on target in the first 75 minutes.

Mkhitaryan tore through Vorskla’s defence in that match, setting up goals by Aubameyang and Denny Welbeck eight minutes apart in the second half. He may have to become the goal-scorer in this match as Aubameyang will be watching from his cozy London confines and Aubameyang sidelined with that horrific ankle injury. Ramsey will have to pull the strings while Smith-Rowe, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan do the scoring damage.

It will take a lot for Arsenal not to get a result in this match, and it would not be surprising to see the Gunners assured of group honours by the final whistle.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Vorskla Poltava 0, Arsenal 3.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEW:

Chelsea (4-0-0, 12, +5) vs. PAOK (1-0-3, 3, -1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 preview — Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)

They may only be four dropped points, but who Liverpool dropped those four points to raises questions about whether they can reel in Manchester City and win their first Premier League title. The Reds seek their third league win on the bounce Saturday against an Arsenal side eager to prove they are worthy of their current top-four status.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Liverpool (8-2-0) are tied with Manchester City atop the table on 26 points but trail the reigning champions on goal difference. With the Citizens imperious on both sides of the ball – they have scored a league-best 27 goals while conceding a league-low three – every Reds result is being dissected and scrutinised to the nth degree.

That is why no one is really overly excited with Liveprool seeing off Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City by 1-0 and 4-1 counts, respectively, around a Champions League rout of Red Star Belgrade. But the win over the Terriers brought back some of the Liverpool of last season, the team who would hunt for goals at every opportunity, and more often than not, cash in.

Sadio Mane had a second-half brace while Mohamed Salah showed a vintage form from last term with a goal and two assists. Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench scored the victory-ealing goal, continuing a run that has seen him total two goals and two assists in his last four matches in all competitions.

Moving the Swiss international to the right side of the midfield as opposed to forward on the right wing has allowed Liverpool to better utilise the pace of their strikers and Shaqiri’s creativity. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp held him out of the lineup mainly to guard against fatigue after being extensively used by Switzerland during the international break, but that might not be happening again anytime soon.

“Shaq came in and was involved I think in two nice goals, that’s always good. That made it so hard to leave him out for that game, only you have to think a bit about it whether it’s really the right thing to do,” Klopp explained to Liverpool’s official website. “We don’t know Shaq long enough and good enough to know how he reacts. Not performance-wise, that’s not important, (but) sometimes you have to protect players until you know them a bit better.”

With Mane and Salah both firing and sharing the team lead with seven goals across all competitions, all that is left is for Roberto Firmino to join in the goal-scoring. The Brasil international has just one goal in eight matches in all competitions since bagging the winner in Liverpool’s Champions League opener versus Paris-Saint Germain on Sept. 18.

While Liverpool’s strike force is in fine form even with Mane and Salah dealing with hand injuries, the engine room is a concern. Midfielders Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita are unlikely to play due to hamstring injuries, though the long-awaited emergence of Fabinho has alleviated some of those concerns.

Klopp opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation against Cardiff in which the Brasil international teamed with Georginio Wijnaldum as holding midfielders. If he returns to his base 4-3-3, the midfield would likely feature James Milner in the middle of the park flanked by Fabinho and Wijnaldum.

The only other area where there is a selection issue is at left back, where Klopp gave Alberto Moreno his first league start last weekend while resting Andy Robertson. Given Arsenal’s issues at right back, it would seem likely the Scotland international will be restored to the starting XI.

The right back position is the most pressing concern of the moment for the Gunners (7-1-2) whose 11-match winning streak in all competitions came to an end with a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace last weekend. Hector Bellerin was forced off at halftime due to injury, with 35-year-old Stephen Lichtsteiner playing out of his position at right back while midfielder Granit Xhaka did likewise at left back.

Both goals Arsenal conceded came via penalties – Xhaka and centre back Shkodran Mustafi were guilty of the fouls – as they canceled out markers by Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The lack of depth on the back line is compounded because holding midfielder Matteo Guendouzi will miss this match after being sent off in Arsenal’s 2-1 Carabao Cup win over Blackpool for a pair of yellow cards.

Manager Unai Emery usually rotates Guendouzi, Xhaka and Lucas Torreira as his two holding midfielders in his 4-2-3-1 formation, and how the first-year manager copes with personnel selection for this match is anyone’s guess.

“That is football,” Emery told Arsenal’s official website. “When you are playing, when you are on the pitch, you can have things positive or negative. Like an injury, a red card or 90 minutes of hard work. With the red card, it’s like that. It’s football.

“We have a lot of players looking to play and to take this responsibility to show their performance, their quality for the team and I am going to prepare with other players and thinking that we can also have a performance for a big match on Saturday.”

One possibility is elevating central defender Sokratis into a partnership with Mustafi in the spine and moving Rob Holding out wide. Another is a possible return for Ashley Maitland-Niles, who has been sidelined the last two months with a leg fracture and before getting the start versus Blackpool last appeared for less than a half-hour in the season-opener versus Manchester City because the Citizens tried to play through him.

Offensively, the Gunners need Aubameyang to continue his purple patch of form. His goal versus Palace was his fifth in his last three league fixtures, though strike partner Alexander Lacazette has gone without a goal his last three matches overall.

It is also not 100 percent certain who will be between the sticks for this match. Petr Cech made his return after missing five contests with a hamstring injury, but it seems more likely Bernd Leno will be restored considering only one of the four goals he has allowed in the last four matches came in the run of play by an opponent.

Additionally, Liverpool have been a bogey team for Cech dating back to his days with Chelsea — the former Czech Republic international has just two wins in his last 13 starts (2-5-6) against them in all competitions and is 0-3-3 against them since joining Arsenal in 2015.

The teams played to a chaotic 3-3 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture as Liverpool took a 2-0 lead on goals by Salah and Philippe Coutinho before the Gunners struck back through Xkaha, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in a blistering five-minute stretch immediately after Salah’s marker. Firmino, though, gave Liverpool a share of the points with a goal on 71 minutes.

Liverpool routed Arsenal 4-0 in the other contest as their Salah, Firmino, Mane, and Daniel Sturridge beat Cech while the Gunners failed to register a shot on frame.

In the Premier League era across all competitions, Liverpool have 20 wins to Arsenal’s 17, while the teams have shared the spoils on 19 occasions.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are decisive favourites to leave London with three points with 10/11 odds to win this match. There are 13/5 odds for Arsenal to stake a claim to legitimacy with a victory, while there are 11/4 odds for the teams to share the points.

In a rare dip into the #GetAPrice Starman offerings, Salah at 11/2 odds to have both a goal and an assist in this contest feels like something that should be aggressively played.

Liverpool have 8/5 odds to get a victory with more than 2.5 goals scored, while the Gunners have 4/1 odds for a similar haul in their favour. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw are 9/2, edging out a 0-1 or 0-2 victory for the Reds. An Arsenal win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count is a 9/1 longshot, even behind a 2-2 draw or higher stalemate (8/1).

The Egypt internationa leads the choices for first goal-scorers at 7/2, followed by Sturridge at 5/1. Arsenal’s strike pair of Aubameyang and Lacazette are paired together at 11/2, with Liverpool’s other forwards Mane and Firmino also a tandem at 6/1. Gunners supersub Denny Welbeck is also an intriguing option at 13/2.

Salah is even money to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Sturridge getting 6/4 odds. Despite having the better form of late, Aubameyang is behind Lacazette for any-time goal-scorers, with the France international 13/8 and Aubameyang 17/10. Firmino and Mane were again lumped together, this time with 9/5 odds to put one past Leno or Cech.

PREDICTION

First off, while there is justifiable concern Arsenal’s woes at the back line can be exploited by Liverpool, let’s not go all crazy thinking the potential replacements Emery has are some pub leaguers being called up to Emirates as if they won a lottery ticket. The Gunners do have options — granted, some of them are not great options — but Holding and Sokratis have Premier League playing time under their belt, and Julio Pleguezuelo was given 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup in the event he makes the bench for this match.

Having said that…

The rightful concern Arsenal have is there is no real place to “hide” Lichtsteiner and his lack of pace. If Emery is going to commit to having Xhaka on the left as his least comfortable playing out of position spot, that means either Mane or Firmino will be on Lichtsteiner’s side on the right. That does not even factor in Robertson probably getting the green light to bomb down the wing as long as he is cognizant of Mkhitaryan linking up with Ozil in that side.

This is a match where Torreira must put in a full shift, and to his credit, the Uruguay international has done that most of the season after Emery slowly worked him into the full-time starter’s role. How he works in tandem with Ramsey will be vital because Milner is very crafty in the middle of the park and highly judicious in his pressing to create the turnovers that led to Liverpool’s quality scoring chances.

One key advantage Klopp has is a personnel and tactical flexibility, which is remarkable considering both Henderso and Keita are not likely to feature in this contest. He can revert to the 4-2-3-1 set-up that worked so well last weekend versus Cardiff City or he can keep the 4-3-3 he has used most of the season. The decision to use Gomez at left back over the youngster Alexander-Arnold is a simple one similar to the match against Manchester City and also out of respect for Aubameyang’s form.

It is somewhat difficult not to label this a “must-win” for Liverpool given City’s form at the top of the table with them. The Reds made up two goals of difference last weekend between the two sides’ victories, which leaves them eight back in difference and seven in goals scored. In some ways, it is similar to Liverpool’s late chase of City in 2013-14, the only difference is this will happen over the next 28 matches and Klopp still has time to be judicious about when to unleash the hounds.

This is a good meausring stick for Arsenal to see the ground they have covered in raising their play since opening the season with losses to City and Chelsea. This is their first match against a “Big Six” side since those two defeats, and while the thinned-out defence corps will make judging that overall quality more challenging, it will at least be interesting to see how Emery responds to that dilemma in both personnel and tactics while being a decided home underdog.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Liverpool 3.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)
Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

 

Europa League Match Day 3 Preview — Sporting CP (2-0-0, 6, +3) vs. Arsenal (2-0-0, 6, +5)

In the span of less than three months, Arsenal have gone for having near zero expectations under new manager Unai Emery to the new boss pleading to supporters not to get carried away after arguably their most impressive victory of the season that also extended the Gunners’ run to 10 on the trot.

Such is the fickle nature in north London as Arsenal face Portuguese side Sporting CP on Thursday in a top of the table clash in Group E of the Europa League.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal are fourth in the table on 21 points, bookended by London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur while lurking two points behind reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool. The Gunners have scored 22 goals in league play, second only to City (26), and that has carried over to Europa League action, where they have bagged seven more in their two wins to lead Group E on goal difference.

The 10-match winning streak in all competitions is Arsenal’s longest such run since reeling off 11 victories on the bounce from Jan. 10-March 30, 2004, part of the dominant run of the “Invincibles” who were the last team to navigate an entire Premier League season undefeated.

Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Leicester City on Monday evoked memories of that famous side, with slick passing and a flowing offence that shook off a sluggish first half-hour to put on a master class of football in the final 60 minutes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace for the second straight match while Mesut Ozil had a goal and set up Aubameyang’s second goal on 66 minutes.

“I don’t have to tell you he’s a good player, he has shown that for the past years,” defender Shkodran Mustafi told Arsenal’s official website of Ozil, “and when you give him the opportunity to  play in his favourite position just behind the striker he is capable of doing anything and I think he showed he can assist, score goals and make us look very dangerous going forward.”

Ozil’s play was what Gunners supporters have been longing for from the former Germany international, whose inconsistencies at times have been maddening to watch and arguably contributed to Arsenal slipping to second-tier status in recent years. But while the wins are piling up, Emery has warned against thinking Arsenal are now title contenders.

“It was very important for us to beat Leicester because they’re not far behind us. Now we’ve created a lot of distance with the teams behind us,” the gaffer said. “Now in front we are looking at teams like Liverpool, like Manchester City, like Chelsea, but it’s not important to think about the end. We need to think about the next match against Crystal Palace on Sunday and I also think the Europa League is very important on Thursday.”

To that end, Emery looks like he will not mess too much with a good thing, most notably leaving the red-hot Aubameyang in his first XI. He has five goals and an assist in his last four matches, and the four goals in the last two contests have come in a span of 89 minutes.

While keeper Petr Cech has been cleared to play, he did not accompany the team on this trip as Bernd Leno will again be between the sticks. That, however, may change for Arsenal’s league match against Palace since Cech had been the No. 1 in Premier League play.

There is also the chance of a Uruguay reunion on the field as Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira and Sporting defender Sebastian Coates could meet. Both were instrumental in helping La Celeste reach the quarterfinals in the World Cup this summer in Russia, where they lost to eventual champions France. Torreira’s dogged play in the midfield in front of Uruguay’s back four was a key factor in Arsenal signing the 22-year-old.

Sporting have claimed the maximum six points in their group matches with a 2-0 home victory over Qarabag and a 2-1 triumph at Vorskla in their most recent Europa League encounter earlier this month. The Portuguese side are fifth domestically on 13 points, four back of Benfica and Braga, and are still rebuilding to a degree after supporters attacked players and staff at the end of last season for failing to qualify for the Champions League.

That led many players — most notably goalkeeper and Portugal No. 1 Rui Patricio — to cancel their contracts with the club and seek work elsewhere. While they have yet to face Arsenal in league play, Patricio has caught the attention of the Premier League in helping promoted Wolverhampton reach the top half of the table thus far.

The Verde e Brancos have lost two of their last three league matches and are coming off a 4-2 defeat at Portimonense last Saturday, shipping four goals in a domestic match or the first time since a 4-1 cup defeat to Benfica in 2010. Sporting twice pulled within one goal in the second half, first through Fredy Montero and again through Coates on 88 minutes, but a stoppage-time marker by Portimonense put the contest out of reach.

Sporting have missed Patricio to a degree, recording three clean sheets in their 10 overall matches while conceding 10 goals. Patricio had 20 shutouts in 48 matches across all competitions in 2017-18.

Montero, one-time Manchester United winger Nani and Jovane Cabral share the team lead in scoring with three goals, and Cabral has bagged two of his coming off the bench in just 24 minutes of Europa League action. Bruno Fernandes has yet to show the scintillating form that led to 15 goals and 14 assists in all competitions last season, but he does have two goals and two assists in Sporting’s nine matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are clear favourites to return to London with three points and the Group E lead as they have 19/20 odds to post a victory. The odds of the teams remaining level on points through a draw are 5/2, while Sporting have 11/4 odds to pull off a surprise and take the group lead for a fortnight before the return encounter at the Emirates.

The Gunners have 2/1 odds to win this match with more than 2.5 goals and 15/4 odds to be victorious via 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. That is slightly longer than a low-scoring draw (7/2), and Sporting odds to claim all three points in a match of three goals (5/1) is slightly better than two or fewer (7/1).

There is no lack of options for first goal-scorers among Arsenal players as Welbeck, Lacazette and Aubameyang all share joint honours at 4/1. Gunners teenage striker Eddie Nketiah is just behind his more seasoned teammates at 5/1, and Mkhitaryan rounds out the top five to give the Londoners a 0-1 lead at 11/2. Bas Dost is the top choice for the hosts at 6/1 to open the scoring, while Abdoulaye Diaby and Fredy Montero are right behind him at 13/2.

Lacazette and Aubameyang have some separation from Welbeck for scoring at any point during the 90 minutes, sharing top billing at 7/5 compared to Welbeck’s 6/4 odds. Nketiah lurks slightly further back at 7/4, and Mkhitaryan again completes the top five options with 2/1 odds on an anytime goal. Aaron Ramsey and fellow Arsenal teenager Emile Smith-Rowe offer 21/10 odds on a goal, and Bost again leads the pack of Sporting options at 11/5.

PREDICTION

While it’s not the “rainy Tuesday night in Stoke” test, this match does represent a step up in class of competition for Arsenal, who it can be argued were favourites to win all 10 of their matches during this winning streak.

Still, the groundswell of support the Gunners are enjoying during the honeymoon period under Emery is a welcome change to the clashing factions under predecessor Arsene Wenger. With each victory in each passing week, the distance grows between the culture of Arsenal’s past under the Frenchman and the one Emery is creating like a meticulous mason building a foundation.

Ozil’s sprinkle of magic dust, however, is what could lift Arsenal to that next level. It may not be title-contention worthy as there is still a noticeable gulf in class between the Gunners and both Manchester City and Liverpool, and Chelsea to a lesser extent, but a top-four finish is definitely there for the taking.

They were irresistible in that hour against the Foxes, but it was the fact it was only an hour still gives pause to Arsenal being a juggernaut. Leicester took a deserved lead in that first 30 minutes, and arguably could have grabbed a second before Arsenal swung the match.

Sporting have the attacking depth to give Arsenal’s back line a severe test, especially through the middle with Fernandes and Montero, along with Nani on the right. Nani had two goals and an assist in eight career matches versus Arsenal, but more importantly, his teams were 6-1-1 in those contests.

This is a contest where Sporting can begin to re-establish the club’s identity following the disastrous spring occurrences, and a draw between the sides to set up a return engagement in London in a fortnight for the top of the group seems like the most likely outcome.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Sporting CP 1, Arsenal 1.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (2-0-0) vs. BATE (1-0-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)

Still a work in progress but making steps of progress with each match, Arsenal look to make it seven wins on the spin Saturday when they host a Watford side trying to shake off a tough exit in the Carabao Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

These sides are separated by one point and two spots in the table, with Watford (4-1-1) in fourth and Arsenal (4-0-2) sixth. The two sides are also trending in different directions – the Gunners are seeking their first seven-match winning streak since Sept. 17-Oct. 19, 2016, while the Hornets are winless in their last three overall after starting the season with the maximum 12 points in league play while winning their first five contests.

While Unai Emery’s team did not record back-to-back clean sheets, they did enough to advance to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over Championship side Brentford. Danny Welbeck had a first-half brace, giving him four goals during this win streak, and Alexander Lacazette put the tie out of reach with a stoppage-time marker.

“I am very happy individually with the player. Danny Welbeck is working with this commitment and when he is playing also with a performance like today, and I think he’s helping the team and we want this,” Emery said of Welbeck, who is in the final year of his contract as both sides are reportedly discussing an extension. “Also it’s more chances for us to find the first XI for the next matches with performances like today’s.”

Cracking that first-choice lineup, however, will be a challenge since both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also are in fine form with seven goals between them in the last five matches. Welbeck has logged just 30 minutes in league play but has made the most of his starts with goals in all three competitions having also scored in Europa League.

“I’m happy with the goals, but more importantly I am happy that we have gone through to the next round and put in a good performance against a good side,” Welbeck told Arsenal’s official website. “We’re taking it game by game, but now we look ahead to Watford on Saturday in the Premier League. That is our main focus at the moment but every single game is important for us.”

All told, Emery overturned nine of his starters from last weekend’s 2-0 win over Everton that turned on a world-class goal by Lacazette and one from Aubameyang three minutes apart in the second half.

One of those changes may be in effect for this match as well with centre back Sokratis Papastathopoulous unlikely to feature due to a knee injury suffered against Everton. Rob Holding, who entered late in the first half for Sokratis and helped the Gunners record their first shutout of the season, played the full 90 against Brentford.

Watford make the short trek into London’s city limits feeling aggrieved after losing to Tottenham Hotspur on penalties after a 2-2 draw Wednesday at Stadium MK. The match was drawn as a home contest for Spurs, whose renovations at White Hart Lane are on-going and were unable to secure Wembley for use. Tottenham requested the MK Stadium venue, which was approved by the EFL over Watford’s objections, and one-time Milton Keynes product Dele Alli drew Spurs level at 1 with a penalty in the 82nd minute after a foul that resulted in a straight red card to centre back Christian Kabasele.

After the teams traded goals in the final four minutes, Alli was again decisive from the spot as both Etienne Capoue and Domingos Quina missed for Watford while Heruelho Gomes failed to stop any of Tottenham’s four attempts.

Watford manager Javi Gracia was incensed over referee Lee Mason’s decision and told The Times, “I like to respect the referee’s decisions but it’s hard to accept the penalty and the red card decision. What I saw was Dele and Kabasele fighting to win possession. We will appeal the red card.”

It will be an important appeal because Gracia has used the same starting XI for all six league contests. Central defender Craig Cathcart was the only holdover from last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Fulham, where Andre Gray scored for the second straight league match. The striker has three goals, sharing joint honours with Roberto Peryera, after totaling five in 31 matches last term.

In a bid to help Gracia keep continuity in the lineup, fellow striker Troy Deeney said he will be getting an injection during the week to deal with an ankle injury suffered in a challenge from Fulham’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah. That is in addition to the broken toes he has been playing with since late last month.

“I have to have another injection, this time in the ankle, for the weekend so I’ll be ready for Arsenal,” Deeney told the Evening Standard as he prepares to reprise his role as Public Enemy No. 1 at the Emirates – where Arsenal supporters will recall his comments last season after Watford’s home win over the Gunners in which he said Arsenal “lacked cojones.”

“There’s a bit of ligament damage in there but nothing a few injections can’t help. It’s going to take more than that to stop me playing against Arsenal.”

The Gunners had the last laugh on Deeney in last season’s corresponding fixture, winning 3-0 as the Hornets striker missed a penalty in the second half that would have made it 2-1. Watford is 3-0-8 against Arsenal in the Premier League era, but two of the wins have come at the Emirates, most notably their 2016 FA Cup quarterfinal upset.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid 4/9 favourites to make it a seventh consecutive win on the trot and have 18/5 odds to take at least one point from the match. Watford are lengthy 5/1 underdogs to record their third win in four overall matches at the Emirates.

Arsenal are also better than even money to win this game with more than 2.5 goals scored at 10/11 odds, and the Gunners get 4/1 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory. A low-scoring draw is a 6/1 pick, followed by a Hornets victory over 2.5 goals at 15/2 and a clean sheet for Gracia’s team via 1-0 or 2-0 win a 16/1 longshot.

Aubameyang edges out Lacazette to lead the line for first-goal honours, with the Gabon international listed at 16/5 while the France striker is 7/2 to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. Welbeck’s stellar recent form has him listed as a third choice at 9/2, while Aaron Ramsey (13/2) and Henrik Mkhitaryan (13/2) round out the top five. Gray narrowly edges out Deeney as Watford’s top option for a first goal to the Hornets at 17/2 compared to Deeney’s 9/1 return.

The Arsenal duo of Aubameyang (5/6) and Lacazette (19/20) have better than even money odds to score during the match, and Welbeck is lurking right behind the pair at 5/4. That makes sense since the trio have accounted for all but one of the last nine Gunners goals.

Gray has 12/5 odds to score for Watford, just ahead of Deeney (5/2), while Roberto Pereyra is an intriguing listing at 7/2 to find the back of the net.

PREDICTION

Little by little, match by match, there is slowly an identity taking hold at Arsenal under Emery. The Gunners are trying to do the little things to see out matches, covering the details that seemed to not matter in the final stages of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. There has been talk of that during the week, with Cech’s comments to The Guardian about style meaning more than substance to “Le Professeur” surprising given the source as opposed to the content of the critique.

Arsenal are becoming a cohesive team with each passing match. The attack is solid, and with Welbeck coming on, there’s now options across the board for Emery to pull the trigger earlier on switches among the attacking four if he seems someone having an off-night.

The decision to bring Lucas Torreira along slowly following his summer signing has paid dividends, but one still feels the pairing of the Uruguay international and teenager Matteo Guendouzi in front of the back four is the ultimate end game for Emery, which leaves Granit Xhaka as the odd man out.

The back four is still prone to mistakes but improving as a unit. That will be challenged to a degree if Sokratis is unable to play in this match, but Holding appears light years better than the wide-eyed youngster who looked overmatched a few seasons prior.

The surprising falling apart of the contract negotiations between the club and Ramsey is a discussion for another day, but with the rumours already swirling the team is determined to get something for him in the January window as opposed to potentially losing him on a free transfer at season’s end is another sign Arsenal are adapting to modern times.

For Watford, this is an opportunity to show they learned their lesson from the loss to Manchester United. The Hornets afforded the Red Devils too much respect that day, and when they finally took the initiative to Manchester United, they were almost able to steal a point at the death.

It will be tougher doing so at the Emirates in contrast to Vicarage Road, but with Deeney setting the example of how important this match is via his choice for an injection, that kind of combativeness can be contagious in a positive way.

Watford are eager to see Kabasele’s red card overturned — something that has a strong chance of happening considering it appeared Mason reverted to the old rules regarding the “last man” defending — and that would also be a huge plus to maintaining the continuity Gracia has enjoyed in the early part of the season.

The Hornets have started brightly in recent years only to fade into mid-table obscurity by the time the holiday fixtures roll around. Watford need their left side — most notably Jose Holebas and Pereyra — to start causing mischief on the flank to help Deeney and Gray find space to operate against Arsenal’s central defenders.

Despite their 2-0 scoreline against Everton, there was not all that much separating the Gunners from the Toffees, and it can be argued Aubameyang’s goal should have been chalked off for being offsides. The Hornets are closer than many think to being in that mix of teams that will comprise seventh through 10th in the table, and getting a point here will go a long way towards that coming to fruition come May.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Watford 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

No lead may be safe Sunday at the Emirates, where in-form Arsenal look to win a fourth straight match on the bounce against an Everton side who regain the services of pacey attacking winger Richarlison.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (3-0-2) started their second successive Europa League campaign on a positive note, easing past Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava 4-2 on Thursday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace with goals on either side of halftime, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan assisted on two goals as the Gunners have now racked up 14 goals in their last five matches after starting the season with a 2-0 home loss to reigning champions Manchester City.

“It was an important victory and it was a bit tough in the first half, but thankfully we scored before we went to the dressing room at the end,” Mkhitaryan told Arsenal’s official website after staking his claim for more playing time. “In the second half it was easier because they started to play football, started to have the ball and started to attack, so we had more spaces in behind their defensive lines.

Summer signing and No. 2 keeper Bernd Leno made his Arsenal debut and the £20 million man came within 13 minutes of a clean sheet, but a breakdown by defender Stephan Lichtsteiner led to a goal before Vorskla snatched a second in stoppage time. The Gunners have yet to post a clean sheet, and that detail did not escape Aubameyang.

“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes,” the striker noted.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery turned over eight players from the side that edged Newcastle United 2-1 last weekend, with the lone holdovers Aubameyang and left-side defenders Nacho Monreal and Sokratis. Summer signing and midfielder Lucas Torreira also received his first start as Emery tweaked his formation to a 4-3-3 after using a 4-2-3-1 throughout league play.

Emery lifted the Uruguay international in the 57th minute as a precaution after a knock, but teenager Matteo Guendouzi was in line to be restored to the starting XI for this match regardless of the outcome.

The north London side are expected to also bring back regulars Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin to the back four on the right, and they could be the ones with the primary responsibility of containing Richarlison.

The Brasil international makes his return for Everton (1-3-1) after serving a three-match ban for violent conduct for a headbutt on Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Richarlison — who scored three goals in the Toffees’ first two contests — made good use of his unexpected additional free time, making his debut for the Selecao during the international break and scoring his first two goals for them in a friendly versus El Salvador.

But Toffees manager Marco Silva may move the 21-year-old from the left wing to a centre-forward position for this match. That is because summer signing Bernard was the only attacking player to distinguish himself in their 3-1 home loss to previously winless West Ham United last weekend. Everton conceded twice in the first half-hour, and while Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back right before halftime, any hopes of a fightback were thwarted when they conceded a third just after the hour.

Richarlison, though, appears ready to move out of his comfort zone to get his compatriot on the pitch to get Everton going again, though it would make striker Cenk Tosun the odd man out in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Bernard is an agile player. He is really fast and scores a lot of goals,” Richarlison told evertonfc.com. “With his speed, he gets behind players and is a danger in the box. His ability pushes opponents back and causes them problems.

“He is highly thought of in Brazil. He is known as ‘Joyful Legs,’ so he is the type of player who will bring joy to the Everton fans. He will be popular here and, hopefully, have a great season and be a big influence on Everton.”

Something that would also bring joy to Everton fans would be a tightening of their side’s defence. The Toffees also have yet to record a clean sheet, which is slightly more surprising than Arsenal’s inability to do so since Everton have England No. 1 keeper Jordan Pickford between the sticks.

But in Pickford’s defence – or lack thereof – Everton already have an entirely different back four from the one that started the season. Lucas Digne has been credible at left back since supplanting Leighton Baines, but talisman Phil Jagielka has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Fellow central defender Michael Keane just returned to practice after suffering a small skull fracture, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after suffering a foot injury playing for Ireland.

Mason Holgate and Kurt Zouma have paired in central defence the last three matches overall, but there is hope summer signing and Colombia international Yerry Mina could finally be ready for his Toffees debut, possibly at Holgate’s expense. Jonjoe Kenny continues to hold down the right back spot.

While much of the focus is on Richarlison, ex-Arsenal winger Theo Walcott will return to the Emirates for the second time as an opponent. Walcott, who has two goals in Everton’s first five matches, broke in with the London side as a 17-year-old in 2006 and totaled 65 league goals in 170 starts and 270 top-flight matches.

Arsenal did the double in emphatic fashion last term, scoring five goals in each victory. The 5-2 rout at Goodison Park last October marked the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure at Everton and started the whirlwind courtship of Silva, much to Watford’s protest. The Gunners followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing at the Emirates as Aaron Ramsey bagged a hat trick and Mkhitaryan assisted on three of those markers.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce over Everton overall and carry a 23-match home unbeaten streak (19-4-0) in all competitions. The Toffees have yet to win at the Emirates, losing their last five and going 0-4-9 since its opening in 2006.

Everton’s lone victory at Arsenal in the Premier League era is a 2-1 win Jan. 20, 1996, at Highbury on goals by Graham Stuart and Andrei Kranchelskis.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 4/9 odds, while Everton are 11/2 underdogs to end their hoodoo at the Emirates. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 18/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting plenty of scoring in this match as the Gunners are 10/11 favourites to win while there being more than 2.5 goals. While they still pick Arsenal to win a low-scoring contest, it is a decent 4/1 return the final score is either 1-0 or 2-0. A draw with a total of under 2.5 goals is 6/1, and a deadlock over that threshold is 10/1. A Toffees victory of 2-1 or better is listed at 10/1, with little faith being put in their defence being able to ride out a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 16/1.

Aubameyang unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 16/5, with Alexander Lacazette second at 7/2. Denny Welbeck, who scored in the Europa League win, rounds out the top three options at 4/1, and the Arsenal playmakers — Mkhitaryan, Ramsey and Ozil — are all in step form from 11/2 to 15/2. Tosun is listed as Everton’s best bet to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 8/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (17/2) and Richarlison (9/1).

Aubamyeang is better than even money to grab a goal during the 90 minutes at 5/6 odds, and Lacazette is level. Richarlison appears to offer a decent 5/2 return on finding the back of the net for the Toffees, and ex-Gunners winger Walcott checks in at 3/1 to put one home against his former mates.

PREDICTION

Eleven months ago, Arsenal decimated the blue part of Merseyside, setting in motion the chain of events that bring us to his match. Everton underwent a drastic overhaul, arguably overspending for their shiny new toys, but one in which they went out to change the culture of the club and remove the “sleeping giant” label.

Silva’s side are still a mess defensively, evidenced by the home loss to West Ham last weekend. Throwing Mina into the fray this weekend has an air of desperation, but at the same time, there is a sense the Colombia international’s presence cannot make the situation any more dire in terms of breakdowns in front of Pickford.

In attack, moving Richarlison out of this comfort spot on the left is also a big risk. He obviously has the size and the pace to be a centre forward, and he can most certainly give a questionable Arsenal defence fits, but at what cost does it come for Everton chemistry in the final third?

The Toffees have yet to be held off the scoresheet, and there is no shame in being held to one goal in two of the three matches without your best attacking option. There’s little doubt Bernard will find his way into the starting XI, sooner rather than later, and there’s also the issue of what to do with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored three goals in all competition during Richarlison’s ban.

Arsenal offered no clues to their consistency with Thursay’s win over Vorslka, though it did show that Emery was right in tabbing Cech over Leno for Premier League duties. There is still a sense keeper is the last position where the Gunners have to rip off the band-aid to commit to this rebuild, but their defence is not good enough where Cech’s shot-stopping skills are to be dismissed.

The Torreira-Xhaka debate will continue to rage until Xhaka gets sent off or picks up his fifth yellow card and sits a match, which is something that could happen by the next international break. It is nice to have depth in which Emery can rotate all three midfielders, but Torreira and Guendouzi are the future in front of the back four.

The middle third is going to be a no-man’s land of sorts — whichever side can pin the other’s holding midfielders back likely will emerge as a victor in this game. And right now, that looks to be the Gunners by virtue of having a (slightly) better defence and finishers in a bit better form than the Toffees at the moment.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Newcastle United (0-1-3) vs. Arsenal (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

Looking for both a third consecutive victory in league play and improvement defensively, Arsenal also hope to extend the struggles of Newcastle United on Saturday when the teams collide at St James’ Park.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The transition from Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery at Arsenal (2-0-2) has had its ups and downs. Emery has held fast to a 4-2-3-1 formation to make the most of his impressive array of attacking options, but the back six when including holding midfielders Granit Xhaka and teenager Matteo Guendouzi have been at times inconsistent, insipid and ineffective.

The Gunners have yet to record a clean sheet, some of which can also be attributed to veteran keeper Petr Cech learning how to play out of the back on the fly, but there have been too many breakdowns to believe Arsenal are going to find a route to the Champions League through domestic play and a top-four finish.

Emery’s faith in Xhaka over summer signing Lucas Torreira continues to be questioned, with the Switzerland international racking up three yellow cards in the four league matches. The push and pull of the two players will continue to be scrutinised as Arsenal embark on their Europa League adventures for a second straight season next week, facing Ukraine side Vorskla in their group opener at home Thursday.

“I appreciate people that want to try and help Arsenal achieve more because I know Arsenal is a team that has to be playing in the Champions League and is a team that has to fight for trophies in England. What we’re trying to do is to bring the Arsenal level back,” winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan said to Arsenal Player.

Emery’s other notable decision before the international break was starting strikers Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang together for the first time, and both players scored in their 3-2 victory at Cardiff City. Lacazette bagged the winner nine minutes from time with a sharp turn in the penalty area before lashing a shot inside the upper near post on the right side.

While he is still at least six weeks away from returning, there was some good news during the international break as defender Laurent Koscielny has resumed practising. The France international ruptured his Achilles in last spring’s Europa League semifinal versus Atletico Madrid, costing him the chance to be on Les Bleus’ World Cup-winning side.

The international break split up a murderous three-match run for Newcastle United (0-1-3), who enter this match looking for a route out of the bottom three. The Magpies took on a defensive shell with five at the back as they tried to nick points from both Chelsea and champions Manchester City in the previous two matches, and while they were level at points in both matches, they failed to secure those draws in back-to-back 2-1 defeats.

Now facing an Arsenal side that has shown to be fragile at the back, the hedge is Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez is going to play positive football and hunt out goals going forward as opposed to solely on the counter. Much of that belief, though, hinges on the availability of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.

Shelvey missed the matches against Chelsea and City due to a thigh problem, and the international break came at an opportune time as Benitez forced the England international to take a break from footballing to get near 100 percent health.

“Jonjo is the kind of player who wants to play in every game and he has been training, but at the same time there is a problem,” Benitez explained to the Chronicle Live. “We don’t talk about his quality, we talk about his fitness. He has the quality to do it, but he has to be fit because we play against another top side who moves the ball very quickly.”

Benitez is not expecting attacking midfielder Matt Ritchie to be available, with veteran Sung-Yueng Ki likely to fill in that spot as the Spaniard vacillates between using a 4-2-3-1 formation and 4-4-1-1 set-up. That “one” in both options would normally have been Salomon Rondon, but with the Venezuela international not expected back to Tyneside until Thursday following his brace in a win over Panama, Joselu could be in the first XI with Rondon among the substitutes.

That also holds true for right back DeAndre Yedlin after he made a late appearance for the United States in their 1-0 victory over Mexico on Tuesday night.

“This period is quite difficult,” Benitez said. “(Christian) Atsu is back now and was training on Tuesday and then on Wednesday we have a couple more problems but DeAndre and Rondon will come late. It will be difficult for us because sometimes they come to us and they say ‘I’m fine’. But they can be tired.”

Newcastle snapped a 10-match losing streak in league play with a 2-1 victory in April in last season’s corresponding fixture as Lacazette and Ayoze Perez traded goals in the first half-hour before Ritchie scored the match-winner on 68 minutes. Arsenal had been unbeaten in their previous 10 visits (6-4-0) to Tyneside in all competitions and 12 matches (10-2-0) overall in the rivalry.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 20/23 odds, and Newcastle are listed at 29/10 to take all three points for the first time this season. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 27/10.

Oddsmakers are sensing Newcastle are vulnerable at the back, evidenced by the 17/10 odds on Arsenal winning with more than 2.5 goals. There are also 4/1 odds for both an Arsenal win under 2.5 goals and a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

Aubameyang is the frontrunner for first-goal honours at 7/2, followed by Lacazette (9/2). Unsurprisingly, Joselu and Rondon share joint-favourite status for the host Magpies to make it 1-0 at 13/2. Aubamyeang is close to even money for a goal over the course of 90 minutes at 11/10, with Lacazette close behind at 6/4. Joselu and Rondon are listed at 21/10 odds to find the back of the net at some point for Newcastle.

PREDICTION

Does he unleash Newcastle? That is the £64,000 question around Tyneside as people posit theories on whether Benitez will let the Magpies venture forward against an Arsenal defence that has had their problems over the first four matches.

One of the issues within Newcastle’s issues is the late return of Rondon from international duty with Venezuela. Play him for only the final half-hour and if Newcastle does not win, the second-guessing for holding him out will be equal or exceed the second-guessing for starting him and he’s ineffective for the first hour or 75 minutes.

Having Shelvey back, though, will be a huge plus for Newcastle. His vision for long diagonal passes could prove vital to stretch Arsenal’s back line or find the gaps between the midfield paring of Xhaka and Guendozui and the back four.

Arsenal’s advantage is that there is nothing about Newcastle’s defence that strikes fear in an opponent. Lascelles is good, yes, but one would expect Aubameyang to give Yedlin a torrid time on the left flank while forming triangles with Ramsey and Lacazette. It may be a case for the third straight match where Newcastle put themselves in position to claim a point but fail to do so late.

Predicted Final Score: Newcastle United 1, ARSENAL 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United