The Gunners moved seven points clear at the top of the table over the weekend by picking up their fifth straight victory in the midst of a ten-game unbeaten run with a 4-2 win at Brighton and Hove Albion.
However, even though the Magpies are nine points behind the north London giants, they are in third place and are on an even longer run without defeat, having not lost in 12 outings now.
Last time out, they drew 0-0 to Leeds United as Eddie Howe’s side kept up their resolute form. Indeed, no team has conceded fewer goals than Newcastle this campaign.
That will give Mikel Arteta a headache heading into kickoff, particularly without the services of main striker Gabriel Jesus, who remains out with a long-term knee injury.
Both Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah – the Brazilian’s two most plausible alternatives – bagged in the win over the Seagulls but as aforementioned, the Magpies pose a much sterner defensive battle of grit and determination.
It’s entirely predictable that the Spaniard will name an unchanged side, even just days after their last outing, but he could take a bold risk in a bid to find a way past that solid backline, one that has only conceded 11 times from 17 games, including a run of five clean sheets across all competitions.
The Gunners do have creativity in the form of Martin Odegaard (2.2) through the middle and Bukayo Saka (2.1) out wide as both are leading the side for key passes per game, via WhoScored.
But that won’t be enough.
Arteta could be rewarded for a huge gamble in unleashing Fabio Vieira alongside the Norwegian playmaker.
The summer signing, who cost £34m from FC Porto, has found game time hard to come by in the Premier League, with seven of his eight appearances coming from the bench. That said, he’s still managed two goal contributions from only 244 minutes and has excelled in the Europa League.
In Europe, he’s delivered another two goal contributions, is second in the team for key passes (1.8) per game and is also third overall for average WhoScored rating.
The Gunners faithful have seen glimpses of the player who assisted 16 goals and found the net seven times for the Portuguese giants last season – such form that has seen Vieira hailed as “very creative” by Arteta – but not enough, so today’s tricky tie could be the perfect time to unleash such a “special talent,” as also described by his manager.
The creative juices of Odegaard and Vieira behind the likes of Saka, Martinelli and Nketiah could bear fruit in tonight’s crucial top-of-the-table clash.
Both of the Gunners’ two attacking midfield dynamos started together in the recent Dubai Super Cup win over AC Milan during the international break, so it’s a system that isn’t completely unknown to the squad.
While it poses a big risk to their own defensive game as either Granit Xhaka or Thomas Partey would need to make way, it could be the only way to find an edge past Newcastle’s steely defence.
Three points would surely set the Gunners on their way to surefire Champions League football next season.