Arsenal have chance to make a statement in Premier League's top-four race

Aditya Devavrat 17:12 31/03/2019
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Arsenal look like favourites in the top four race.

Arsenal return to Premier League action on Monday as they welcome Newcastle to north London.

Newcastle are seven points above the relegation zone, possibly safe already, though they can’t afford to think so. Arsenal, meanwhile, need to keep pace with their top four rivals.

Here are the talking points for the game.

WILL ARSENAL BE RUSTY OR RESTED?

Arsenal have had a longer break than most Premier League teams, since they didn’t play on the weekend before the international break thanks to their early elimination from the FA Cup while their scheduled opponents, Wolves, were busy beating Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the competition that weekend.

By a quirk of the schedule they’re also playing the last game of this game week, one or in some cases two days after everyone else, and a full 18 days since they last kicked a ball in anger.

The extra day could help players like Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka be fit for this game, which would be a welcome boost. Newcastle have showed in recent weeks that they are no pushovers and though Arsenal are formidable at home, this has all the makings of a potential banana-skin game. They may be well-rested, but they can’t afford to show any rust.

ARSENAL NEED TO MAKE THEIR MARK IN TOP FOUR RACE

By most pundits’ estimations, Arsenal have the inside track on their rivals in the top four race. They play no other top-six side the rest of the season, though Monday’s game is one of only three remaining at home in Arsenal’s final eight league fixtures.

Those three home games are all against teams in the bottom half of the table, starting with Rafael Benitez’s outfit, and though no team can afford to be taken lightly – Newcastle and Crystal Palace, another of Arsenal’s remaining home opponents, have both beaten Man City this season – Arsenal are undoubtedly targeting nine points from those games.

Only City and Liverpool have better home records than Unai Emery’s side this season. And this weekend, Arsenal play after all of their top four rivals, which can add to the pressure but also makes it abundantly clear what’s expected of them. This is the perfect chance to make a statement.

CAN BENITEZ BREAK HIS DUCK?

For all that Benitez has achieved as Newcastle manager, he could make a bit of personal history on Monday. The Spaniard has never managed a win away from home in the Premier League at Arsenal, with two draws the best he’s done in seven previous visits to the North-London club.

Across competitions in 2019, Arsenal and Newcastle have actually lost the same number of games, five, which doesn’t reflect too well on the Gunners; true, two of their losses came in Europe, where Newcastle haven’t played a competitive fixture in six years, but those were against BATE Borisov and Rennes.

Their home form has been superlative all season, however, which makes it unlikely that Benitez breaks his duck on Monday. But Newcastle have acquitted themselves well in away losses against City, Chelsea, Tottenham, and United – where they led 2-0 – this season. Is this the game where they finally break through?

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