Arsenal have won two in a row to climb up to the top half of the table. Newcastle have lost two in a row and fallen into the relegation zone. This match is an important one for both teams coming off the first international break of the season.
Here’s their rankings for different statistics this season:
20th – Possession
18th – Shots
19th – Danger Zone Shots
17th – Big Chances
19th – Expected Goals
13th – Dribbles Attempted
4th – Average Pass Length
Rafa Benítez is a really good coach, but one thing he is not is a coach who will sacrifice defensive solidity to create scoring chances. With a challenging schedule including matches at Chelsea and against Tottenham and Manchester City, it is not surprising to see Newcastle at the bottom of most offensive categories this season.
As a team they have been in control of the ball for just 96 minutes this season, which averages out to 24 minutes a match. For comparison the average team has been in control for 34 minutes per match (this measure takes out all of the time that the ball is not in play and on average there is about 60-70 minutes of ball control per match).
It should come as no surprise that the top four players in the Twelve rating system all get most of their value from defense. As a team Newcastle have attempted the second most defensive actions (tackles, interceptions, blocked passes/crosses, clearances and fouls) in the league behind Brighton. Martin Dubravka recorded the best goalkeeping performance of the season last time out too.
Overall they have allowed the fourth most shots this season (just one behind their opponent Arsenal), but either through luck, defensive pressure, tactics or some combination they have allowed only 26% of those to find the target (the league average is 35%), for the 12th most shots on target faced. This stat goes a long way to explaining how they have outperformed their xG by over two goals this season.
With another test against a top team, don’t expect Benítez to change his MO in this match. Arsenal should see lots of the ball with Newcastle deep and looking to create chances on the counter. The big key for Newcastle will be Jonjo Shelvey who is an injury doubt but also far and away the best passer on the team (as the number one in points per minute played on the Twelve rankings) and key to creating those fast break chances.
Arsenal have won two matches in a row but with the games coming against the teams currently 20th and 16th in the table they were far from convincing. For the season, their offensive output looks far too close to average to make a fan feel comfortable. With the offensive talents on the team, the expectations were a lot higher at the start of the season. Below are the Premier League shots per game and xG per shot stats:
That upper right quadrant is the sweet spot of high volume shooting and high value shots, the top left is high volume and lower value, bottom right is low volume but high quality and bottom left is low volume and low quality. Each line represents the league average in each measure. Arsenal are pretty close to the intersection of both lines.
Arsenal’s two transfer record breaking strikers have both gotten off to slow starts with a goal each (both coming in the last match against Cardiff City) and rank 7th and 10th on the Arsenal points leaderboard.
Against Newcastle where Arsenal should have almost all of the possession I would expect that both will start again and will be leaned on to create offense.
Picking players for the #ChallengeTwelve game this week is tough, partly because some of the players I would like to pick might miss the match due to injury (Shelvey and Lucas Torreira) and this could be a muddled game with Newcastle parking the bus. I am going to lean toward Arsenal players here with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Özil and round out the pick with Jonjo Shelvey even if he is an injury doubt.
I expect that Aubameyang will find himself getting a good amount of shots in this match and with his finishing ability he is a good bet to get a goal. With Arsenal controlling the ball against a deep block the two players that stick out to be able to take advantage are Özil and Granit Xhaka.
This is a bit of a gamble as Özil always seems to be stricken with the flu on matches at Newcastle but I think he will play here and with a week off with no international duty he will hopefully be in line for his first big performance of the season.
Lastly I think Shelvey’s skills and this Arsenal side are perfect for each other. Arsenal will push full-backs forward and play a high line, while Shelvey is really good at long balls over the top into space and there should be a lot of that in this match.
Match Simulation and Prediction
Arsenal are favorites and I am picking them to win this match 3-1.