Newcastle v Arsenal: questions for Ramsey and Coquelin
Premier League game of the week: can misfiring Gunners kick-start their season at St James' Park?
It's only the fourth week of the season, but Arsenal's trip to Newcastle on Saturday already looks pivotal as another setback, even at this early stage of the campaign, would put a serious dent in the Gunners' title aspirations and provide plenty of ammunition for the club's fickle fans ahead of the international break.
After three games the Premier League table does not provide a true reflection of the balance of power, so while Arsenal's ninth position is of little consequence, the fact that they already trail Manchester City by five points is significant. The Gunners are also three points adrift of potential title rivals Manchester United and Liverpool.
City and Liverpool have winnable home games this weekend, as do Chelsea, who, like Arsenal, have started badly. The upshot is that if the Gunners return from Tyneside empty-handed they could find themselves eight points behind City and trailing the other title contenders by a substantial margin.
Arsenal's situation is not a million miles away from Newcastle's. The Magpies might have rather more modest aspirations for the season, but a return of two points from Steve McClaren's first three league matches in charge is not what the fans were hoping for, but after a resolute performance against Manchester United there are hopefuls signs for the home side.
"Arsene Wenger has described Arsenal's start as 'very average' and, having watched Newcastle show renewed defensive spirit at Old Trafford, they will have to rise above that standard to get a result at St James' Park," says Match of the Day commentator Steve Bower on BBC Sport.
The Gunners could again be without both first-choice centre backs. Per Mertesacker is ill and Laurent Koscielny was a late withdrawal from Monday's match against Liverpool with a back problem, but could recover in time. It was something of a miracle that Arsenal kept a clean sheet against Liverpool and it will be interesting to see if Wenger perseveres with Calum Chambers at the back.
There is a big problem in midfield, says The Independent, where Aaron Ramsey appears out of sorts on the wing. "With a lack of a world-class striker in the side... Ramsey's lack of width and ineffectiveness on the wing is only adding to the bluntness of the side going forward." An alternative like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be preferable from an attacking point of view, says the paper, which says Wenger is guilty of trying to shoehorn Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil into the same team.
Newcastle will have Moussa Sissoko, the architect of Newcastle's stunning comeback in the 4-4 thriller in 2011, and Daryl Janmaat available after injury and suspension whilst McClaren may also give a first Premier League start to new signing Florian Thauvin, while FourFourTwo believes the key battle will be between Georginio Wijnaldum and Francis Coquelin. "The Dutchman's drive and ability to knit the play together has been invaluable so far, with his late runs into the box adding another potential source of goals to McClaren's side... the Frenchman must keep a cool head in what is likely to be a hot atmosphere at St James'."