Two teams who have a degree of uncertainty swirling around them prior to the start of the new season meet when Newcastle host Arsenal at St James’ Park on Sunday (2pm live on Sky Sports).
Newcastle begin the campaign with most of the bookmakers ranking them as the fifth most likely team to be relegated. The departure of coach Rafael Benitez has certainly conditioned that, not least because his replacement, Steve Bruce, has suffered relegation twice before.
Last season was a relatively sedate one for Newcastle. They were five points clear of the bottom three at the halfway stage and were then actually the eighth-best team in the league over the course of the second half of the campaign. The end result was a 13th-place finish, some distance from European contention but also comfortably clear of the drop zone.
Aside from two relegations followed by immediate returns to the top flight, that sort of mid-table mediocrity has become Newcastle’s speciality under the ownership of Mike Ashley. They have finished between 10th and 15th in four of their last five top-flight seasons. Doing just enough to stay in the division and so claim their share of the television rights money seems to be the aim.
Newcastle have spent some money this summer, but they couldn’t really afford not to. Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon, their first and second top scorers last season, both departed, and replacement firepower was required. Only time will tell if the combined £56 million they have laid out on the Hoffenheim striker Joelinton (who profiles as more of a facilitator than a line-leading goal-getter) and the skilled but inconsistent Allan Saint-Maximin proves wise.
They will also seek to draw some kind of output from the returning Andy Carroll, signed on a one-year deal after leaving West Ham on a free transfer.
Bruce may be able to maintain the decent defensive structure that gave Newcastle the eighth-best defensive record in the Premier League last season. The fact that his Sheffield Wednesday side conceded less than a goal a game during his 18-match run there last season certainly suggests that is possible. Then, at an individual and collective level, they should have just about enough in the final third to ensure another middling finish.
Sunday’s opponents Arsenal have higher ambitions for the season. They finished just a point shy of the top four last time and are obviously keen to go one better in 2019-20. To that end, they have invested in a number of new signings, headlined by the £72-million arrival of forward Nicolas Pepe from Lille. Adding him to a front line that already includes Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gives them some serious firepower.
Scoring goals wasn’t a problem for Arsenal last season. They were the league’s third top scorers, with 73. Keeping them out was. Unai Emery’s side had just the ninth-best record in the division, conceding 51 times. They were particularly leaky away from home, with only four teams conceding more on their travels than Arsenal’s 35, approaching two per match.
Deadline-day deals for Chelsea central defender David Luiz and the young Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney have bolstered their options in defence, but Emery will need to sort out the balance of his side if those individual improvements are to translate to better collective defending.
One point isn’t much to make up to get into the top four. Arsenal will certainly look at potential weaknesses at both Chelsea and Manchester United and see an opportunity to secure a return to Champions League football. The gap may be wider than it first appears. Arsenal clearly outperformed their underlying numbers last season. They were numbers that essentially made them look more like a top-six challenger than a top-four contender.
What is certain is that Arsenal will have to perform better on their travels this time around. That poor defensive record contributed to them only being able to put together the league’s eighth-best set of away results last season.
Our Preview’s Newcastle vs. Arsenal Betting Tips Verdict
St James’ Park was one of the places where Arsenal were able to triumph and they should be expected to do so again on Sunday. Newcastle lost 11 of their 12 matches against the top six last season, including five out of six on home soil. With a worse coach and a squad whose overall quality has probably remained the same, at best, even a somewhat flaky Arsenal side should be expected to get the better of them.
- Bet on Arsenal to win & both teams to score on the ‘match result and both teams to score’ betting market @ best odds of 13/5 with Bet365 and Betfair.
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