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While there were some fears that the World Cup break could ruin their momentum, Arsenal have returned to action without missing a beat. Not only are the Gunners playing some good soccer — they scored seven goals in the first two matches back — but they’ve gained ground on the competition. With that being said, though, there are some tricky tests on the horizon.

Beyond a difficult stretch of the schedule featuring Newcastle, Tottenham, and Manchester United, Arsenal have another potential issue: yellow card accumulation. Should either Bukayo Saka or William Saliba get booked on Tuesday, they’ll be suspended for the North London Derby.

Let’s break it down.

William Saliba and Bukayo Saka are walking the metaphorical tightrope against Newcastle

Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka receives a yellow card.
Bukayo Saka and William Saliba are one booking away from being suspended at the worst possible time. | Steve Bardens/Getty Images

In the modern Premier League, every match represents a challenge. A date with Newcastle, however, is especially tough. Although the northern club is yet to fully flex its newfound financial muscles, the Magpies are flying high, and everything manager Eddie Howe touches seems to be turning to gold.

Through that lens, Arsenal’s date with Newcastle will be an important measuring stick for both clubs. Beyond it being a top-of-the-table clash, the Gunners’ chase for Champions League football essentially ended after a defeat at St. James’ Park last season. Tuesday will be a chance for Mikel Arteta’s men to exercise the ghosts of the past and prove they’ve improved.

And while the players can only take things one match at a time — overlooking any opponent, let alone the third-place team, is a recipe for disaster — there is something of a bigger-picture challenge at play. Both Bukayo Saka and William Saliba are one yellow card away from suspension. If either of them is booked, which is certainly a possibility in a hard-fought match, they’ll have to sit out the Gunners’ next Premier League outing: a visit to Tottenham.

Arsenal yellow card suspensions: How does disciplinary accumulation work in this unconventional season?

Normally, the threat of yellow card accumulation vanishes once the Premier League reaches the festive period. Thanks to the World Cup and the unconventional schedule, though, the 2022-23 campaign is a bit different.

As The Athletic laid out earlier this year, a player will serve a one-match ban if he receives five yellow cards across his club’s first 19 matches. Looking beyond that, there’ll be a two-match ban for any player who receives 10 books across 32 matches. It’s also worth noting that those suspensions have to be served in the competition where the cards accumulated. You can no longer get away with sitting out a (relatively) meaningless FA Cup tie to avoid missing a Premier League fixture.

When you combine the World Cup break with some other fixture movement — the death of Queen Elizabeth II postponed some matches — some clubs are on uneven footing. Heading into the Newcastle match, for example, Arsenal have only played 16 games. Some other clubs are sitting on 16, too, while others are on 17.

Both Saliba and Saka are sitting on four yellow cards, meaning they’ll have to survive three matches, including Tuesdays, without a booking to avoid the ban.

Even with two suspensions looming, Arsenal can’t let yellow cards affect their collective game


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Given the importance of the North London Derby — as the cliche says, your first job is to avoid losing that game — it’s tempting to wonder about keeping both William Saliba and Bukayo Saka on the sidelines against Newcastle. Discretions, after all, can sometimes be the better part of valor. It’s safe to assume, though, that Mikel Arteta won’t have time for any such ideas.

First and foremost, the manager has been working to instill a specific culture at Arsenal. Whether that manifests through him taking every competition seriously — If you’ve watched All or Nothing, you know how upset he was after an FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest — or challenging the likes of Saka to play more games per year, Arteta isn’t going to let outside circumstances dictate his team selection. Arsenal are playing Newcastle on Tuesday, and until the final whistle blows, that’s the biggest item in everyone’s crosshairs. To invoke a famous line of coaching cliche, “You play to win the game.”

It’s also worth remembering that points are the same, no matter where they come from. Would beating Tottenham feel bigger than beating Newcastle? Probably, but each win looks the same on the table. There’s no use in playing a weakened team on Tuesday and dropping points without a guarantee of victory against Spurs. The logic says you go all-out in the first match, simply because it comes first, and then play the best available team going forward. Think of it like a penalty shootout. Is it tempting to save your star for the clinching kick? Yes, but then there’s a chance he’ll never touch the ball.

It’s also worth considering the message that pulling Saka and Saliba out of the lineup would send. Both players are part of the Gunners’ young core and, on a logistical level, are in the midst of contract negotiations. If Mikel Arteta essentially says, “I can’t trust you to play today,” it’s tough to imagine any positives coming from that conversation.

With all of that being said, though, having two key starters on the brink of suspension during a crucial stretch of the schedule is certainly far from ideal. At this point, though, all Arsenal can do is play through it and hope for the best.

The Gunners have passed every other test so far this unconventional season. Why not add some yellow card accumulation into the mix?