Arsenal v Newcastle: Gunners will be made to work hard
Arsenal have won just six times in the league this season, and Kevin Hatchard believes that Newcastle will make it difficult to increase that tally.
Arsenal v Newcastle Sunday 16 February, 16:30 Live on Sky Sports
Arteta starting with the foundations
Empires take time to rebuild, and Unai Emery's time at Arsenal ran out earlier this season. Now Mikel Arteta has the task of lifting the Gunners back towards the light, and although it's a slow process, there are some positives to take.
Arsenal aren't winning many games (they have taken maximum points from just six of their 25 Premier League matches, and only the bottom two Watford and Norwich have won fewer games) but there has been an injection of steel, and spike in the level of work many of the players are prepared to put in. The Gunners are unbeaten in their last five league matches, and perhaps just as importantly, they have leaked just four goals in those games. Arteta may have only become the second Gunners boss to win just one of his first seven top-flight games (Steve Burtenshaw was the first, pub quiz fans) but there seems to be plenty of goodwill at this stage.
As fortresses go, the Emirates has a few cracks running through it. Arsenal have won just one of their last eight home matches in the top flight, and they have lost three of the last five. They have only scored multiple goals in three of their last PL matches on home soil. If you look at Infogol's Expected Goals figures, Arsenal have had a higher xG figure than their opponents in just one of their last eight PL home games, and that was the only game they won in that sequence. This isn't a series of hard-luck stories - Arsenal just aren't dominating home games as they once would have.
New signing Cedric Soares is still injured, but Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson are both back in contention after thigh problems.
Newcastle defying the science
There are lots of statistics and analytical models that will tell you that Newcastle should be fighting a relegation battle based on their performances this term, but Steve Bruce's Magpies are confounding their critics. Bruce wasn't initially a popular replacement for the beloved Rafa Benitez, but he has approached his dream job with diligence and dignity.
Newcastle are unbeaten in their last four league games, and they are a healthy seven points clear of the bottom three. They have beaten Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea this season, and they have improved upon what was an awful away record, losing just three of their last seven road matches in the PL.
Bruce has had to deal with a persistent injury crisis, and the luckless Andy Carroll has been sidelined once again. His loss is mitigated by the return of South America duo Miguel Almiron and Joelinton. The latter is struggling in front of goal (he has gone 1766 minutes without scoring in the league) but other departments of the team are allowing a relatively inexperienced player to learn his trade in a very tough environment. After all, it's not his fault that he joined the club for a hefty transfer fee.
Newcastle's Premier League record against Arsenal is dreadful. Opta tell us they have lost 13 of their last 14 PL games against them, and haven't won at the Emirates for a decade.
Gunners too short to take the win
Given Arsenal's lack of killer instinct all season, it seems strange to see them trading at 1.45 to take three points here. Presumably Newcastle's awful underlying statistics have been factored in, but Bruce's men keep on defying the numbers.
A conservative way to approach this would be to back Newcastle +1.0 & +1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [1.82], which means you only lose if Newcastle lose by two goals.
If you think the Magpies will dig in, consider laying Arsenal in the Half Time market at 1.96. Newcastle have trailed at the break in just four of their last 12 league matches, while Arsenal have led at half time in just four of their last 12.
Grittier Gunners to keep things tight?
Under 2.5 Goals is odds-against here at 2.16 and I think it's a bet that's worth considering. Six of Arsenal's last eight league games have featured fewer than three goals, as have five of Newcastle's last nine top-flight matches. On the road, four of NUFC's last six PL matches have seen an Under 2.5 Goals bet land.