Arsenal welcome Newcastle United to the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, but how many changes should Mikel Arteta make to the side that started the 4-2 win over Brighton?
Arsenal’s first game of 2023 sees them host Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium.
When the Premier League season got underway back in August, not many would have predicted Tuesday’s meeting would pit first against third in the table. But that is the situation with both sides exceeding expectations as the halfway point in the campaign fast approaches.
The Gunners go into this particular fixture hoping to make it six successive wins in the top-flight of English football either side of the World Cup break after beating Brighton and Hove Albion 4-2 on New Year’s Eve – a result that saw them open up a seven-point lead at the top of the table as Manchester City and Newcastle were both held at home.
With Arsenal back in action just three days after the trip to the South Coast, squad rotation could come into play. Although, unless a new signing is confirmed before 12 noon Monday, Mikel Arteta is likely to have the same squad to choose from with Gabriel Jesus and Reiss Nelson still sidelined due to injury.
Nevertheless, the Gunners manager can name a strong line-up in an attempt to make a flying start to the new year and he could be in a position to welcome back one senior player as well as facing a team selection dilemma, especially with games against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United later this month.
As a result, football.london takes a look at the changes Arteta could make to either his starting XI or matchday squad as Arsenal face Newcastle on Tuesday night.
Bukayo Saka was cautioned in the second half of the Gunners’ 4-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion on New Year’s Eve. That was yellow card number four in the Premier League this season which means if he is booked against Newcastle he will miss the North London Derby against Spurs 12 days later.
Taking the fact that the winger has started every league game so far this campaign into consideration, it would be a major surprise if he doesn’t extend this record on Tuesday night. But with him being one game away from a ban, it does create somewhat of a dilemma for Arteta.
Does he gamble and leave Saka out of the starting line-up? Or does the Spaniard just tackle the suspension risk head-on and opt to have a little word with the England international before kick-off, telling him to watch his step to avoid picking up yellow card number five?
Speaking of suspension risks, William Saliba is in the same boat. If booked against Newcastle, he will miss the game against Spurs so Arteta is facing a tough call over what to do with his central defender as, ideally, he would like to have his strongest back four available for the North London Derby.
Perhaps the Frenchman’s performances after the World Cup can make the decision easier. Having been fortunate to avoid a booking after giving away the penalty against West Ham by interrupting Jarrod Bowen’s stride, the 21-year-old was at fault for Brighton’s second goal by misreading the flight of the ball.
Having performed so brilliantly since returning in the summer following a loan spell at Marseille, mistakes are beginning to creep into Saliba’s game so it might be worth taking him out of the firing line and Arteta does have Rob Holding, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu waiting in the wings to partner Gabriel Magalhaes.
Alternatively, it could be that the best way for the France international to rediscover his best form is to continue playing. It should be pointed out that he didn’t play for the better part of six weeks as he spent all but 27 minutes of the World Cup in Qatar on the substitutes bench.
Smith Rowe returns
Prior to the Brighton game, Arteta delivered an encouraging update on Emile Smith Rowe: “Very much,” the Spaniard responded when asked if the attacking midfielder is close to making a return having been out of action since the end of September following groin surgery.
“He’s made big steps in the last week or so. He took part in some training sessions lately and looked good. We’re really keen to have him back soon.”
Not too long after Arteta’s admission, an image of Smith Rowe in a full training session alongside Saka and Eddie Nketiah emerged ahead of the Brighton clash. That, in addition to the 22-year-old’s social media post, prompted suggestions that he would be involved at the Amex Stadium in some capacity.
That proved to not be the case as the midfielder wasn’t included in the 20-man matchday squad. But that could change for the Newcastle clash if he’s involved in another full training session whilst Arteta is likely to provide another update when he speaks to the media.