2018-19 EPL Match Day 14 Preview — Arsenal (7-3-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (10-0-3)

Sunday’s north London derby at the Emirates features two in-form sides of varying degrees in hosts Arsenal and guests Tottenham Hotspur. But the first north London derby without Arsene Wenger since 1996 is expected to offer another clue for just how far the Gunners have come under first-year manager Unai Emery.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (8-3-2) are unbeaten in their last 18 matches (14-4-0) across all competitions since Emery’s tenure began with losses to Manchester City and Chelsea. Faced with a logistical nightmare for Thursday’s Europa League tie at Vorskla Poltava in which the match was moved for Vorskala to Kiev 48 hours before kickoff coupled with a crunch derby match on a short turnaround, Emery opted for a younger squad with fringe players while leaving his regulars behind.

His faith in those players was rewarded with a 3-0 victory that left the Gunners needing only a draw at home versus Qarabag in their group finale to claim Group E honours and seeding for the knockout round. Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock had first-half goals on either side of Aaron Ramsey’s penalty on 27 minutes.

Of the three goal-scorers, only Ramsey stands any chance of playing for Arsenal in this contest. As much as Emery is trying to prepare for the derby as just another match, he knows it is impossible to avoid the scrutiny and increased attention that comes with facing Tottenham (10-0-3).

“Each match for me is very special,” said Emery, who is friends with Spurs counterpart Mauricio Pochettino. “The derby is perhaps more special because my responsibility is bigger because of every supporter. Also we need three points in the league because we want to be closer to the other teams, like Tottenham, and we have this challenge.”

It’s a different match on Sunday against Tottenham, but the derby for every supporter is different. For us it’s the same but also with a cool head and our thinking on three points. In the last matches we drew and also Tottenham have a three point lead over us, and we will do a lot of things to prepare for a difficult game and a tough match, but we need to deliver the best performance to win.”

The main talking point around Emery’s lineup selection has been Mesut Ozil. The former Germany international was a surprise omission from the first XI and did not play in last weekend’s 2-1 victory at Bournemouth, with the manager not liking the matchup against the physical Cherries defence for Ozil.

Considering how Wenger all but wrote Ozil’s name in lineup in pen for every match, the pragmatic approach Emery took caught most by off-guard, and he is not tipping his hand whether the playmaker will make his return in this contest.

“I don’t know because tomorrow is the last training, but every player is very important with their qualities,” Emery demurred when asked. “We need to continue preparing and continue improving in our work and as a team with bigger performances and individual quality. I will prepare for the match with every player.”

Tottenham’s unbeaten run pales in length when compared to Arsenal’s current stretch, but the Lilywhites have been impressive all the same with six wins on the bounce in all competitions while remaining within touching distance of leaders Manchester City.

The chance at a second derby victory in a span of eight days around a Champions League triumph that gave them a fighting chance to reach the knockout round for a second straight year has sent Spurs supporters’ spirits soaring as the quality of a side that provided a good portion of England’s World Cup squad has shined in part due to Pochettino’s deft tactics and man management.

Start with last weekend’s 3-1 romp at Wembley over Chelsea in which Pochettino flummoxed counterpart Maurizio Sarru by playing a diamond midfield with Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane on the wings. The formation forced Chelsea midfielder Jorginho to stay deeper than normal in his midfield role, and when one of his midfielders pushed forward, there would be pockets of space to pour into. Kane and Dele Alli – the forward tip of the diamond – scored in the first 16 minutes before Son blazed by Jorginho and added a third after the restart.

The momentum continued with Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Inter Milan that gave the Lilywhites a chance to reach the round of 16. Granted, having what is essentially a must-win match at the Nou Camp versus already-qualified Barcelona is less than ideal, but after taking one point from their first three matches, Spurs are taking the fight to teams – epitomized by Christian Eriksen’s winner seven minutes from time.

“The mentality so far is good, now it’s about delivering the job,” Pochettino said at his Friday news conference. “We have the belief and that is the most important thing in football and the faith that you can beat any team away from home.

“It’s a special game, it’s tough to play this sort of game, it means more. We know that it means to our fans this game. The players feel that and are aware what it means. We have a lot of players that have arrived to the first team from the academy and they know what it means.”

Pochettino does have some selection decisions to make, most notably along his back four. Centre back Jan Vertonghen made his return in a pressure cooker of a situation after a 10-game absence due to a hamstring injury. With Juan Foyth available after not being on the initial Champions League roster, it is possible Pochettino will turn to the young Argentina international and not tax the veteran Belgian further this week.

Right back Kieran Trippier may be available after missing the last two games due to a groin injury, and left back Danny Rose could be in line for his first appearance in 10 showings after making the bench midweek. Ben Davies, though, has made the most of his playing time since Rose got hurt and could get one more start.

Up front, Erik Lamela will be a match-time decision due to a thigh injury, but Pochettino has plenty of options there as he can start Eriksen – who came off the bench on 70 minutes versus Inter – as well as Son or Lucas Moura.

The Lilywhites have a miserable record at both Highbury and the Emirates in the Premier League era with just two wins in 27 overall matches (2-10-15). The lone victory in the last 26 was a 3-2 triumph in 2010 after fighting back from two down. Arsenal are 5-3-0 in the last eight at the Emirates and posted a 2-0 victory last term as Shkodran Mustafi and the since-departed Alexis Sanchez scored five minutes apart late in the first half.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are narrow favourites to extend their unbeaten run at 13/8, while Tottenham are a 7/4 selection to win the match and keep the heat on Liverpool for second. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 13/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting a back-and-forth affair with 4/7 odds of there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/8 odds on a total under that threshold. There are 4/9 odds neither keeper will post a clean sheet compared to a 13/8 return for a shutout on either or potentially both sides.

Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are joint-leaders for the first goal-scorer options at 10/3, with Arsenal’s Alexander Lacazette at 5/1 edging out Spurs’ Fernando Llorente (6/1) for the third spot. A mix of players — Nketiah, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Moura — are all 13/2 while Son lurks just behind the trio at 15/2.

For any-time scorers, Kane and Aubameyang are better than even money to find the back of the net at 4/5 odds, while Lacazette is again third, this time with a 13/10 return. Of the more intriguing options in a match that figures to be a back-and-forth affair, Son is 2/1 while Alli and Eriksen are both 11/4 picks for the Lilywhites. Moura and Mkhitaryan are 7/4 picks while Ozil is a 3/1 option for the Gunners.

PREDICTION

Compared to the feeling like the world will end at Merseyside if there is a loser between Liverpool and Everton, the north London derby rages white hot because of the expectation both teams are going to put on a show. Arsenal laid down an important marker in their draw against Liverpool when Emery went all out and got a deserved equaliser through Lacazette, that they will no longer curl into the fetal position when adversity arrives.

The change in culture and accountability Emery has instilled in less than a year on the job is nothing short of remarkable, and it is now starting to dawn on Manchester United and the other hopefuls for a top-five spot just how hard it is going to be to dislodge Arsenal from that spot or potentially higher in the table depending on how they survive the holiday fixture list and then evolve from that point forward.

Then there are Spurs, who come into this match with a full tailwind and esprit de corps in a bid to cap what would be a truly glorious eight days around the construction cones of White Hart Lane. Tottenham are fully deserving of the plaudits given to them, first last weekend with their pillar-to-post thrashing of Chelsea and then mid-week with their relentlessness to see off Inter late.

While there are some injury concerns for this match — will Lamela play, is Trippier healthy, does Pochettino trust Vertonghen’s hamstring to survive two high-impact matches four days apart — Spurs are all they got right now, and they are making it more than enough. For this derby, though, this is where Kane must be the bogeyman of the Emirates like he is for the Gunners at White Hart Lane.

Note: This has not been due to a lack of effort or results since has has seven goals in eight lifetime matches versus Arsenal. It’s just his two match-winners have come at home, and there would be nothing more fitting than to see Tottenham see out these eight days with their talisman putting the finishing touch on a slumpbuster.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 2, Tottenham 3.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 14 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (11-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (6-2-5)
Southampton (1-5-7) vs. Manchester United (6-3-4)
Chelsea (8-4-1) vs. Fulham (2-2-9)
Liverpool (10-3-0) vs. Everton (6-4-3)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview — Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)

Arsenal look to get back to the business of winning at Dean Court on Sunday when they face a Bournemouth side eager to prove they are worthy of their current top-six spot in the table.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Gunners (6-4-2) are unbeaten in their last 16 matches across all competitions after Unai Emery’s tenure began with losses to Manchester City and Chelsea. But with three successive draws and four in the last five contests overall, Emery is eager to hit the ground running after the international break as Arsenal seek a top-four finish to get back to the Champions League for the first time in three seasons.

“The Premier League is our priority, and our objective in terms of the table is to finish in the top four,” Emery said. “The club wants to return to Europe’s top club competition which is the Champions League, and we have two opportunities by which to do that – one is the Premier League, and the other is the Europa League, because obviously you qualify by winning that competition. Both are very difficult but we want to ensure we perform the best we can on both fronts.”

Emery was effusive in his praise of Sunday’s opponents, with Bournemouth (6-2-4) the best of three teams on 20 points directly below the Gunners as they lead both Watford and Manchester United on goal difference.

“I think they are a good team, a young coach but a very good coach with his small experience but very big experience,” he explained. “I know Bournemouth and they are a very prepared team with tactically good movement on the pitch and with a big intensity with each player and when they are playing there, we know it is very difficult.”

Arsenal are still somewhat beat up despite the international break. Emery is on his third left back, Said Kolasniac, as Nacho Monreal remains sidelined and Stephan Lichtsteiner is questionable with a hamstring injury. Danny Welbeck is a long-term absentee with an ankle injury, but right back Laurent Koscielny is moving closer to his first match action since last spring when he ruptured his Achilles in their second-leg Europa League semifinal tie versus Atletico Madrid.

Back on the pitch, Arsenal are looking to put together a complete opening 45 minutes in league play. In an odd statistical quirk, the Gunners have yet to hold a lead at the interval in Premier League action.

“We can speak here about the statistics a lot of time, for a long time. We are scoring a lot, it’s good? Yes, it’s perfect. 26 goals is a very big statistic for goals, but also, we have received 15 goals. It is not good. We are playing sometimes with a very good possession. It’s good, yes?

“But sometimes, we are playing with a very good possession, for example against Wolverhampton, but we didn’t win. We need more, but we need more in some things being different tactically, individually, in the spirit, in the mentality.”

The Cherries have another chance to stamp their legitimacy against a Big Six opponent, having come up short at Chelsea, and more recently against Manchester United at home. The latter defeat was particularly frustrating – Bournemouth nearly ran United off the pitch in the first 45 minutes only to concede twice in the second 45 and allowed the winner in stoppage time.

The hangover from that loss continued at St James’ Park before the international break as they were unable to overcome a pair of goals by Salomon Rondon in a 2-1 loss to a struggling Newcastle United. Jefferson Lerma pulled one back for Bournemouth, but it was not enough to prevent a second straight loss.

One reason for the mini-slump has been the absence of striker Joshua King, who has missed the last three matches with an ankle injury. The Norway international has four goals, but he is part of Eddie Howe’s full-strength 4-4-2 set-up and emerged as the perfect foil striker for the pacy Callum Wilson.

“He has improved. He trained with the group and we will be excited if he is fit,” Howe told the Bournemouth Echo about King and the team in general. “We’re a lot better than we had been after the Newcastle game where we had a number of players who had carried knocks and injuries.

“The break allowed us to nurse a couple to somewhere near full fitness. We will still make a few late checks going into the game but we are in a lot better shape.”

Wilson has a team-high seven goals in all competitions for Bournemouth, while Ryan Fraser has a Premier League-leading six assists and seven overall.

Howe will be forced into one change to his starting XI as Adam Smith suffered a knee injury against Newcastle and is expected to be sidelined at least three months. Charlie Daniels is expected to slot in at left back for the Cherries, and it should be a seamless transition considering he started 105 of Bournemouth’s 114 Premier League games the last three seasons and has been in the first XI four times this term.

After taking just one point in their first five Premier League matches versus Arsenal, Bournemouth finally broke through in the most recent meeting with a 2-1 win at home. Wilson scored an equaliser on 70 minutes to cancel out Hector Bellerin’s early second-half goal and then turned playmaker for Jordon Ibe’s match-winner in the 74th minute.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are even-money favourites to return to London with all three points, with Bournemouth getting 23/10 odds to pull off an upset and take sole possession of sixth. The longshot of the outcomes is the teams splitting the points at 11/4.

The Gunners are a 33/20 pick to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, while the host Cherries offer a 17/5 return to win with that goal count. A draw with less than 2.5 goals has 5/1 odds, while a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline is just off that at 11/2. A draw of 2-2 or higher has 7/1 odds, while little faith is offered for a Bournemouth victory and a 1-0 or 2-0 final at 9/1.

Arsenal strikers Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lead the way for first-goal picks at 4/1 and 9/2. respectively. Wilson and Gunners reserve Eddie Nketiah are a joint third at 5/1, while the Cherries also have the next two in veteran Jermain Defoe (13/2) and King (7/1).

The Gunners duo are also the top two on the toteboard for scoring over the course of 90 minutes, with Lacazette at 6/5 and Aubameyang at 13/10. Wilson and Nketiah are again paired together, this time at 6/4, and Defoe gets some slight separation from his teammate at 15/8, with King and Henrikh Mkhitaryan at 21/10.

PREDICTION

Bournemouth showed they were capable of taking on one of the Big Six for 45 minutes, the question now is can they sustain it for a full 90? What makes this match important for Bournemouth to at least take one point is Manchester United appear (key word: appear) to be experiencing something more than a brief malaise, which puts a top-six finish and a spot in Europe in play.

Getting King back for this match will be huge, especially against an Arsenal back line Emery is still piecing together match to match. Additionally, the Gunners’ bizarre first-half issues (struggles feels too strong a word considering they have trailed just twice after 45 minutes despite not leading in any of those 12 matches) are tailor-made for Howe’s team to try and put together a 45 minutes like they did against United when they bloodied their nose with that deserved goal.

Yet Bournemouth are still fragile defensively, and while Daniels has been there and done that as he replaces Smith, Arsenal’s right side with Alex Iwobi or Mkhitaryan will prove troublesome. Two of the Cherries’ three clean sheets in league play have come against the more challenged offensive sides in Cardiff City and Southampton. This is a match where Begovic must stand up and be counted.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Bournemouth 2, Arsenal 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)
Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)
Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)

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)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)

Match by match, Unai Emery is winning the Gooners over.

Arsenal look to make it six wins on the spin in league play and nine on the trot overall in a London derby at Craven Cottage on Sunday versus Fulham.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After two underwhelming seasons at Paris-St. Germain – in the context of the French club’s outsize ambitions – Arsenal supporters were not exactly bowled over when Emery was picked as the man to succeed Arsene Wenger. At the same time, a good portion of the fan base were willing to have anyone replace Wenger as Arsenal (5-0-2) had slipped from Premier League title contenders to a second tier outside the top four.

Emery’s welcome to the Premier League could not have been any more difficult, starting the season with losses to reigning champions Manchester City and London rivals Chelsea. But the Gunners have been perfect since, adjusting to Emery’s 4-2-3-1 formation and relying on a high-powered offence to help overcome the teething pains of an unsteady back four.

That defence, though, has tightened of late with three clean sheets in their last four matches across all competitions following a 3-0 victory at Azerbaijan side Qarabag FK on Thursday. Defender Sokratis marked his return after a two-match absence due to injury with a goal in the sixth minute before teenagers Emile Smith-Rowe and Matteo Guendouzi added second-half tallies.

The scoreline, though, was flattering to a degree as Emery tinkered with a largely second-choice squad. He played three at the back in the first half before introducing Lucas Torreira at the restart and dropping Stephan Lichtsteiner back into a proper four. Mesut Ozil and Alexander Lacazette made late cameos, with Lacazette assisting on Guendouzi’s goal, and Emery thought his team still has room to improve.

“Each match for us is not easy,” said Emery, whose side traveled 4,000 kilometres back to London almost immediately after the victory. “Their mobility, their quality in above all the first half, I think we suffered in the match. But I want to suffer. I want to not find easy matches, like today. Then, in our moments, to show you and show them our possibilities, our quality and our organised moments. I think in the 90 minutes today, the team worked very well.”

Arsenal left behind three players in London – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – due to various reasons, and it seems likely at least Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will return to the starting XI. Ramsey is waiting for his wife to deliver twins and could be a match-time decision.

At the same time, Emery has enough flexibility that he can move Ozil into the central playmaker’s role for Ramsey and slide Mkhitaryan from the bench to the right wing. Emery could also start Alex Iwobi, who continues to make his case to be in the first XI after assisting on Smith-Rowe’s goal and continuing his strong play over the past month.

“For us, each match is very important to show us and for them to take responsibility, take confidence and take rhythm,” Emery said without tipping his potential lineup. “I am very happy with how they are responding on the pitch. Alex Iwobi is another player who is the same. When we arrive on the match at Sunday against Fulham, it’s also very important that we decide the best first eleven and the players on the bench for continuing together in this way, away at a very good and difficult team like Fulham.”

The Cottagers (1-2-4) are learning the hard way that money does not always buy victories as the £100 million they spent on a fresh influx of players after earning promotion has yet to produce a cohesive side in the top flight. Some of that is due to the injuries along the back line, with the latest casualties Timothy Fosu-Mensah after the Manchester United loanee separated his shoulder eight minutes into Fulham’s 3-0 defeat to Everton last weekend and Joe Bryan.

Fulham have taken just two points from their last four league matches around a pair of Carabao Cup victories, and Whites boss Slavisa Jokanovic is viewing three points at home as imperative to kick on this season and avoid getting sucked into a relegation scrap.

“This is our home, we must start to mark our territory and push hard to hurt the opposition team,” he said at his Thursday news conference, aware the game is a sellout. “In this competition, you must make yourself strong at home. I’ve been here two-and-a-half years and we always find support from our stands. We always find a positive ambience in Craven Cottage.

“I am sure our fans are going to give everything to push us in a positive and right direction, fighting for the victories. But the solution is in our hands. We definitely need to encourage them.”

Between lack of quality and injuries, Jokanovic has been pressed into using nine defenders in league play, with regular centre back Tim Ream the latest to enter the fray in making his season debut after being sidelined due to injury. Fosu-Mensah’s absence likely creates an opening for Cyrus Christie at right back after he entered the game against Everton as Fulham try to record their first clean sheet in league play. Versatile Ryan Sessegnon is expected to drop down to left back after playing recent matches wide in the midfield.

In attack, Aleksander Mitrovic looks to add to his team-high five-goal haul. Three of them have come at Craven Cottage, and the Serbia international has 17 goals in 27 league appearances for the Whites since his move from Newcastle United last January.

Arsenal did the double over Fulham the last time the Cottagers were in the Premier League in the 2013-14 season. The Whites have just three wins in 26 matches (3-5-18) versus the Gunners in the Premier League era, but all three have come at Craven Cottage, and the most recent one came in 2012.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are strong favourites to run off their ninth consecutive victory, entering the match with 4/6 odds to return back to north London with three points. Oddsmakers think highly enough of the Gunners to offer better odds on a draw (16/5) than a Whites victory (18/5).

Arsenal are 23/20 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in the match, with a 1-0 or 2-0 victory getting 24/5 odds. The odds of the teams splitting the points after playing 90 minutes 0-0 or 1-1 are 11/2, while Fulham have 5/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals. Oddsmakers are offering 8/1 on a high-scoring draw, while a low-scoring Cottagers victory is the longshot of the bunch at 12/1.

Gunners forwards Lacazette and Aubameyang are joint-favourites to score the first goal of the match at 7/2, with Danny Welbeck a surprising third at 5/1, just ahead of Mitrovic (6/1). Mkhitaryan is also getting action at 6/1, with Ramsey 13/2 despite his uncertain status. Andre Schurrle is Fulham’s second-best choice at 15/2, nudging out Ozil at 8/1.

Aubameyang and Lacazette are even money to score during the match, with Welbeck crowding in at 11/8. Mkhitaryan is also a strong Gunners option at 7/4, while Mitrovic would provide a 17/10 return beating Leno. Schurrle (21/10) and Luciano Vietto (3/1) are Fulham’s other top options.

PREDICTION

These teams are trending in opposite directions, and it is a bit of a dangerous match for Fulham. Things have not gone according to plan for Jokanovic, and much of his press conference centered around confidence, or the lack of it from his team at the moment. The Cottagers have struggled defensively following their promotion, and while Jokanovic took pains to stay true to Fulham’s identity as a side that would play positive football, the tinkering he did in last week’s loss to Everton may have unwittingly done more damage.

If there is a silver lining, it may be a plus to return Sessegnon to left back, where he excelled last season in the Championship bombing forward. How often he pushes up will depend on how well Arsenal hold possession, but a young player going back to where he enjoyed success is something Fulham need as the revolving door on defence continues due to injury.

It would not be surprising to see Ramsey dropped from the match all together as his wife prepares to give birth, though it also would not be surprising to see him on the bench. That Emery has options for either contingency with both he and Ozil relatively well-rested as the former Germany international played just 25 minutes at Qarabag is a huge positive going forward, and it would be interesting to see Ozil back in the middle of the park pulling strings.

Leno gets the chance to follow up a strong outing in his first proper Premier League start after making quality saves in the win over Watford. How he interacts with his back four — notably Sokratis and Mustafi — will be something to watch, as well as his distribution given that was the 1A reason Arsenal paid £19 million to Bayer Leverkusen for his services.

Arsenal’s form is currently too good to see them leave Craven Cottage with anything less than one point and more likely, all three. But it would surprise no one to see Mitrovic put one past Leno in order to make the Gunners work for their result and an extension of their winning streak heading into the international break.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Fulham 1, ARSENAL 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

Europa League Match Day 2 Preview: FK Qarabag (0-0-1, -2, 0-2) vs. Arsenal (1-0-0, +2, 4-2)

It will be the longest trip for a match in Arsenal history, but it will not be without some intrigue Thursday when Arsenal look to maintain their status atop Group E of the Europa League in Azerbaijan against Qarabag.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Gunners have made the 4,000-kilometre trek to Baku with a few notable omissions from their squad. Keeper Bernd Leno is expected to start in this match, but he is also currently the uncontested No. 1 since Petr Cech is sidelined at least a month due to a hamstring injury.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has left three of his regular attacking starters behind in London as Aaron Ramsey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are all absent. In the case of Ramsey, his wife is expected to give birth to twins any day, while Aubameyang has been battling an illness and hopes to be available for Sunday’s league match against Fulham.

Mkhitaryan’s absence, however, is a personal issue due to his Armenian heritage. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been involved in a dispute regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh region over the past 30 years. Both manager and player agreed it would be better for the winger to not make the trip and did not apply for a visa to Baku, which is also the site of the Europa League final in May.

“My work is football. I respect each person, I respect each people, I respect each culture, I respect each country,” Emery said at his Wednesday news conference. “But I don’t know each situation in every country. For me, he cannot play tomorrow. There is respect for Micki and respect for you. Today we are here with the opportunity to play well.

“He cannot travel here. We are here, the players with the best mentality and preparation and possibility to play tomorrow.”

This is not the first time Mkhitaryan has not traveled to Azerbaijan for a match, also sitting out a Europa League game in 2015 with Borussia Dortmund when they played Gabala due to security concerns.

Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov could not resist the urge to take a jab at the player and the London club during his news conference, stating “If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time, until now a lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send [him].

“Arsenal may be afraid that in front of 60,000 Azerbaijani fans, Mkhitaryan has some pressure and that is why they didn’t send Mkhitaryan.”

The Gunners, though, enter this contest in fine form and looking for their eighth consecutive victory on the bounce after starting the season with back-to-back defeats. Arsenal have not won eight in a row since a run of nine consecutive triumphs from March 1-April 18, 2015, in which they were eliminated from the Champions League on away goals and picked up a pair of FA Cup victories en route to lifting that trophy.

Emery does not lack for options to replace his attacking trio as Danny Welbeck will likely find his way into the starting XI and perhaps lead the line. Welbeck had a brace in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup win last week and also scored in their 4-2 victory over Vorskla to open their Europa League campaign. In Mkhitaryan’s place on the wing is expected to be Alex Iwobi, who had an assist in the win over Vorskla and has appeared in some capacity over Arsenal’s last four matches in all competitions.

“This season I’ve been working a lot more on trying to improve my finishing and also assisting my team-mates which is what I believe someone in my position should do to get to the next level,” Iwobi told the team’s official website. “I’ve been focusing on that and also in training I feel like my team-mates have been giving me the freedom to express myself, as well as the new boss. There’s no pressure or weight on my shoulders. I’m just enjoying my football.”

Sokratis could return to the back four for this contest after missing the last two matches due to a knock suffered in the win over Everton. Arsenal have recorded clean sheets in back-to-back league matches and have trailed for just five of a possible 630 minutes during their seven-match run.

Qarabag are second in the Azerbaijan Premier League, trailing Neftchi PFK on goal difference and are unbeaten in league play with five victories and a draw in their first six matches. The Atlilar have won three on the trot since opening Group E play with a 2-0 defeat at Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon and are coming off a 2-0 victory at Morning on Saturday.

Michel’s header in the 82nd minute snapped a scoreless deadlock before Innocent Emeghara secured the victory on 89 minutes with an insurance goal. Qarabag have worn down opponents domestically, scoring six of their nine goals after the hour mark in their three victories.

Emeghara has scored a team-leading four goals for the Horsemen, while Mahir Madatov, Abdellah Zoubir, and Filip Ozobic have contributed two apiece. While most of the names on Qarabag are unfamiliar, keeper and Iceland international Hannes Halldorsson is not expected to play as he has fallen behind Vagner in the pecking order.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are heavily tipped to extend their win streak as they enter the match 4/9 favourites. The hosts are 6/1 longshots to crack the win column while a draw returns 16/5 odds.

After six goals in their opening match, Arsenal are again expected to pour it on in this contest and have 13/10 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in the contest. The Gunners also have 5/2 odds to record a 1-0 or 2-0 victory, while a draw with less than 2.5 goals returns 21/5 odds. For those who fancy the underdog, a Qarabag win of any nature is listed at 12/1.

With Aubameyang home in London, Alexander Lacazette leads the line for first goal-scorers at 10/3, with Welbeck close behind at 4/1. There are some potential big payouts as Mesut Ozil (7/1) and Iwobi (15/2) offer impressive returns to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. Those do pale in comparison to Emeghara, who is Qarabag’s top option at 17/2.

Lacazette has 11/10 odds to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Welbeck lurks right behind at 11/8. Ozil checks in at 12/5, narrowly ahead of Iwobi (5/2), and Emeghara again leads the way for the Horseman at 14/5, followed by Madatov (10/3).

PREDICTION

The drama surrounding Mkhitaryan aside, it has become clear Emery is taking the Europa League seriously and trying to rotate his players to keep them fresh for Premier League play. He brought 21 senior players to Azerbaijan, showing respect to Qarabag along with the full expectations the Gunners will return to London with three points.

Emery could tweak the formation some without Aubameyang, Ramsey and Mkhitaryan, but at the same time, the Armenia international’s absence gives him the flexibility to keep his preferred 4-2-3-1 and put Welbeck out wide. Sead Kolasinic is expected to get his first start of the season at left back for Nacho Monreal, and Sokratis’ return gives Shkodran Mustafi a rest.

This should be a straightforward effort for the Gunners, who should be able to run and hide early in this contest and strengthen their chances of reaching the knockout round before facing the other quality side in Group E in Sporting Lisbon.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Qarabag 0, ARSENAL 3.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (1-0-0) vs. MOL Vidi FC (0-0-1)

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