With Saturday’s resounding victory at Brighton to end the 2022 calendar year, Arsenal FC went from “contender” to “front-runner” in the Premier League title race. The Gunners opened a seven point gap on reigning champions Manchester City, who had been tapped to be repeat champions by most every footballing publication as the season began. Arsenal overcame their Brighton Boogeyman with a 4-2 victory at the Amex that rounded out a successful 2022 on a sublime high note.
But for all of the talk of Arsenal having the inside track for the title after Saturday, the road ahead in 2023 is still long and treacherous, and it starts with a tough test from, of all sides, Newcastle. If there was another team that can claim the mantle of surprise side of the season, it is hands down the Magpies, whose upward trajectory has been well ahead of schedule since their acquisition by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in October of 2021. The massive money move has propelled Newcastle into the realm of the Big Oil Clubs, alongside the likes of Manchester City and PSG, a potentially troubling prospect for the rest of the Premier League’s traditional Top Six sides.
Similarly to Arsenal, 2022 saw the Magpies’ fortunes flip. As the clock struck midnight on December 31st, 2021, they were second bottom of the table and looking a despondent side with no identity. However, they put together a back end to their Premier League campaign that saw them climb out of the drop zone all the way to 11th. The big turnaround, though, started with the hiring of manager Eddie Howe, was hired in November of 2021. Following long-time manager Steve Bruce, he did a near-impossible task, righting a sinking ship with smart tactics that maximized the available talent on roster. With 12 wins from the the clubs final 18 matches, he became the first manager in English top flight history to help a club avoid relegation after not registering a win in their first 14 matches.
And now, Newcastle’s ascension has continued, as they sit 3rd in the PL table and remain the only side besides Arsenal with only one loss to their name. Simply put, this team does not lose. Sure, they have seven draws to their name, but that is a testament to their ability to neutralize opposition attacks and to also pin teams back and put the pressure on opposing defenses. Miguel Almiron has become their talisman with 9 goals scored, good for 5th best in the league, and last season’s brilliant January addition of Bruno Guimares unlocked the attacking prowess of their side. And they have managed such tremendous success largely without the help of summer signing Alexander Isaak, who has spent much of the season injured.
But Arsenal have been the side of the season, and for good reason. 14 wins from the opening 16 matches have not been by chance. Mikel Arteta’s side has been playing like they share one brain, dominating across the pitch in ways that the club haven’t seen in decades. Since league play restarted following the World Cup, Mikel Arteta’s side has been in scintillating goal-scoring form, netting seven times in two matches. The front three of Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah, and Bukayo Saka have each score in the last two matches, and captain Martin Ødegaard has been in elite form. Defensively, Arsenal showed a little rust over the last two matches, but the quality and depth is there, with every player in the defensive corp finally healthy.
This is a massive match for both sides, and certainly one that no one predicted to have such major title implications at the beginning of the season. But a win for either side will be a major boost as the season nears its halfway point. For Arsenal, it is a chance to start 2023 with a statement win at home and potentially open up a larger gap on Manchester City, who open January with a slate of matches that feature away trips to Chelsea and Manchester United before playing Spurs twice in two weeks. Arsenal will get no rest following Tuesday’s match, as they have an FA Cup match before playing away to Tottenham Hotspur and hosting Manchester United in successive league matches.
With how raucous and electric the Emirates has been, the crowd on Tuesday will surely be among the loudest this season. The Gunners have the quality and the caliber, and this could be the time to start putting serious distance between them and the rest of the pack. A draw or even a loss doesn’t but any means wreck the season, but a win would open a 12 point lead on Newcastle and keep the heat on City. Huge is an understatement.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Newcastle United
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
WHEN: 2:45pm EST/11:45am PST/7:45pm BST
HOW TO WATCH: Live on the USA Network. Streaming on NBCSports.com
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