Few could have imagined eight years ago when Arsène Wenger and Alan Pardew exchanged angry shoves on the touchline at Upton Park, following a late West Ham winner over Arsenal, that the two would one day be exchanging the warmest compliments and sympathies through the press. It also easy to understand why there has been so much mutual respect in the buildup to Arsenal’s clash with Newcastle United on Saturday.
They are both in a rare position to appreciate the struggles the other has gone through this campaign. After last weekend’s chastening defeat to Stoke City that left Arsenal sixth in the Premier League, Wenger was greeted by a mob of jeering Arsenal fans as he boarded a train back to London. A week earlier, a similar sentiment was conveyed, admittedly far more cordially, by a banner at the Emirates Stadium that read: “Arsène, thanks for the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye.”
Pardew is all-too familiar with such hostility and, indeed, has had to take it in far larger, more vehement doses. Never truly embraced by some Newcastle fans due to his perceived close links with widely unpopular owner Mike Ashley, the former West Ham manager’s position appeared close to untenable after hostile protests accompanied a seven-match winless run to start the season. Things on the pitch have improved drastically since, but Pardew retains plenty of sympathy for his counterpart and no little praise for his accomplishments.
“This is a guy who has done an unbelievable job and in some ways the stadium should be named after him,” Pardew said in his pre-match press conference on Friday. “He's had a couple of difficult results just recently but Arsène -- as every manager does -- will get through it. His treatment in that train station was totally disrespectful. I'm sure every Arsenal fan was ashamed of that and they will be looking to put that right on Saturday night, I'm sure. “
Sharing Pardew’s displeasure for the instantaneous reactions from sections of supporters and media alike, Wenger also had some kind words for a man with whom he hasn’t always exactly seen eye-to-eye.
“We had one time a problem but after we sorted it out,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Friday. “I think he has done very well, because he has gone through a very difficult patch at Newcastle and he dealt with it with strength and dignity. Fortunately he has been rewarded for it. I think it is society is like that today. You want to win the next game and it is permanent tribunal from everybody. And you have to cope with that.
“I have sympathy for every manager who suffers and he has done extremely well. And he has done extremely well last year until December after he lost [Yohan] Cabaye and after it become very difficult. And this year again they had a difficult start and after now they are on a great run, he has done a great job to redress that. It is not easy.”
Newcastle have won six of their last eight Premier League matches and go into Saturday’s encounter at the Emirates Stadium level on points with Arsenal. Like their next opponents, though, they will be compromised by a lengthy list of unavailable players.
A 2-1 victory over Chelsea to become the first team to defeat the Premier League leaders in any competition this season came at a considerable cost. With first-choice goalkeeper Tim Krul already out, backup Rob Elliot suffered an injury to join him on the sidelines. It leaves 21-year-old Jack Alnwick, who only made his debut off the bench last week, to wear the gloves for several weeks. Steven Taylor and Moussa Sissoko will also miss out against Arsenal through suspension, while captain Fabricio Coloccini is a doubt.
Meanwhile, rather than abating, Arsenal’s defensive problems have deepened. Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal remain sidelined, while Calum Chambers is now suspended after being sent off at Stoke. It could mean that Mathieu Debuchy, despite only just returning to the side and playing more than 75 minutes against Galatasaray in midweek, is forced into a center-back role. Another option is to hand a first ever Premier League appearance to 19-year-old Isaac Hayden.
“Defensively, I have 24 hours to think about it and I will find a solution for tomorrow, of course,” Wenger said. “We have to play somebody with now experience, or somebody who is not used to playing the position.”
Arsenal beat Galatasaray 4-1 in Istanbul in what turned out to be a meaningless encounter as Wenger’s men had to settle for progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League as runners-up. The game did see Aaron Ramsey score a sensational effort to take his tally to three goals in two matches after a recent drought. But the Welsh midfielders’ momentum has now been halted by a hamstring injury that rules him out on Saturday.
Prediction: Those players unavailable are set to play a major part in the outcome of this encounter. For Newcastle, the breaking up of what has been a strong partnership between Taylor and Coloccini is a big blow. But more significant could be the absence of Sissoko. The France midfielder is a real driving force for Pardew’s men and could have exploited Arsenal’s lack of a commanding presence in midfield, as he did against a Chelsea side missing Nemanja Matic. Arsenal could also struggle with an unfamiliar midfield and a patchwork defense. Both teams should score and there certainly could be more anguish for Wenger, but the absentees are likely to impact the visitors more and allow Arsenal to add to their five consecutive wins over Newcastle.
Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle United
Kickoff time: 12.30 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra