Away and up, up for Arsenal at Newcastle
Arsenal's trip to Newcastle is the perfect chance to kick-start their title charge
NEWCASTLE v ARSENAL
(Today, 7.45pm, SingTel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
All that pre-season work geared towards an explosive start to the English Premiership campaign came to nought.
Three games into the season, Arsenal find themselves already five points behind leaders Manchester City, and bogged down by a negative goal difference.
The fans' patience is wearing thin.
The poor start that blighted last season, and ultimately derailed their Premiership crown hopes, has struck once again.
It's at home where the Gunners are especially feeling the blues.
They opened their campaign with a 2-0 loss to West Ham at the Emirates Stadium.
Last week, they were outplayed in their own backyard by Liverpool for much of a game which finished goal-less.
This is why St James' Park, where they play Newcastle today, is the perfect stage for the Londoners to finally kick-start their title charge.
His team's home jitters aren't lost on manager Arsene Wenger. Opponents have figured out that the best way to counter the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium is to close ranks and stubbornly hold the fort.
Said Wenger (above), whose outfit have yet to score at the Emirates Stadium this season: "Teams come and defend very deep at (our) home.
"As long as we have not scored the first goal, it's maybe more difficult to open the defences.
"In recent games, that's what happened to us."
On away grounds, it's a different story for the Londoners. They have taken 19 out of the last available 21 points on the road. Against Newcastle, they have won seven on the trot.
This trip to the north-east comes almost as a relief.
At Old Trafford last week, Steve McClaren's Newcastle sat deep, fought hard, and eked out a 0-0 draw with Manchester United.
On home turf, however, priorities change. Newcastle will show more ambition and take their chances, in the hope of a shock win.
Arsenal will appreciate the space.
Despite what the statistics may suggest, they have the flair and firepower to take advantage.
A team built around the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Oezil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are designed to inflict maximum damage.
Striker Olivier Giroud, with one goal under his belt, must be raring to go.
He has scored more goals against them than any other opponents - eight in six league matches.
Freed from the pressure of delivering in front of an expectant home crowd, Arsenal have no more excuse to not move up a few gears.
Even at this early stage, they are running out of time to make their move.
A defeat will likely put them a massive eight points adrift of City, who are expected to stroll to an easy win over newly promoted Watford today.
A victory, on the other hand, can stop the doubts from creeping into their system.
Wenger stressed that their title hopes hinged on a strong start.
It's still not too late to make amends.
Wenger: Coquelin's doing a great job
SHIELD: Arsenal's solid defensive record for this year is partly due to the presence of Francis Coquelin (above), says Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Francis Coquelin is "doing a great job" as Arsenal's first-choice defensive midfielder and the numbers back him too, according to manager Arsene Wenger.
Former Manchester United defender and pundit Gary Neville has criticised the Arsenal midfield, especially Coquelin (left), but Frenchman Wenger seems to have complete faith in his 24-year-old compatriot.
"Coquelin has (some of) the best defensive statistics and numbers in Europe," Wenger told the club website.
"You watch football like I watch football and you will see that defensively, Coquelin is doing a great job," the 65-year-old said.
Coquelin, who has been with Arsenal since 2008, broke into the first team following the injury crisis his club faced last season.
"Since January, we have conceded less goals than anybody else. You know in football you have to accept that anybody can be right," Wenger said.
"The only thing I want is that when people have opinions, it is documented and worked-out before."
Arsenal have scored in only one of their first three Premier League matches this season, but Wenger is confident his side will return to their fluid best at Newcastle United today.
To achieve that, Wenger says, Arsenal must convert the chances they create.
"We have to play quicker, be more incisive, combine quicker in the final third and we work hard on that," the club's longest-serving manager said.
"We create chances, but at the moment, we analyse well after the game the number of chances and the number of expected goals we should score with the chances we create.
"At the moment we have a little deficit between the chances we create and the number of chances we score."
Newcastle, without a league victory after two draws and a defeat, will be aiming to end a dismal run of seven consecutive losses to Arsenal, a winless streak that stretches back for almost five years.
"There were some good individual performances in midweek and it's given me plenty to think about in terms of team selection going into the Arsenal game," Newcastle manager Steve McClaren said.- Wire Services.