Bernard impressed with high-flying Magpies
Written by Luke Vinton
Former left-back Olivier Bernard believes Newcastle United have the capabilities of earning a first away win at Arsenal in nine years on Monday night.
Newcastle have only defeated the Gunners in North London on two occasions since the turn of the century - with Bernard playing his part in a successful 3-1 win at Highbury back in 2001.
After falling behind to Robert Pires' opener, goals from Andy O'Brien, Alan Shearer and Bernard's left sided partner, Laurent Robert, sent Sir Bobby Robson's men to the summit of the Premier League at Christmas.
Arsenal currently sit in fourth place this season, with a five-game unbeaten streak, but Bernard remains optimistic that Newcastle have enough quality to earn their first win at the Emirates since a 1-0 victory in 2010, courtesy of Andy Carroll's match-winning header.
Bernard told nufc.co.uk: "It's always difficult to play against Arsenal. They have been on a good league run lately so the game won't be easy. I still think there is enough strength in the Newcastle squad to hurt Arsenal but the main focus will be on how well they can defend to be able to have the opportunity to grab a goal.
"Newcastle have been on a good run too and their confidence will be high. It's a great opportunity to earn more points. They are showing strong signs of character lately and they have been tidy. It is a good time for Newcastle to face a strong team and I think they are good enough to compete with these types of clubs who are challenging for Champions League qualification.
"Arsenal have always been a team who are very difficult to play against because of their possession game that they concentrated on. They were at the top of their game and were very frustrating to play against because they had so much confidence.
"They knew they could score anytime and I think both times when I played against them, we would end up coming back into the dressing room and saying we weren't playing well but yet we still managed to squeeze a few goals past them. There were many times where we pushed them very close, drawing at St James' Park and losing 3-2 at Highbury.
"That year Arsenal went through a whole season unbeaten (2003-04), they had a cheeky kind of confidence which was the cutting edge for their success. They knew they were comfortable on the ball and could make things happen fairly quickly with talented players such as Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.
"However, there have some excellent battles over the years. We won at Highbury (a 3-1 win in 2001) and although Arsenal were a tough team to play against, the intensity that Newcastle always put into those games gave us a great opportunity to get a result. It was a very competitive fixture and our power was that we had the speed to catch teams on the counter-attack and breaking forward was what we were made of."
Winless in their opening ten Premier League fixtures, Bernard has been impressed with United's run since the turn of the year, which seen Rafa Benítez's side pick up five home wins in a row at St. James' Park.
The 39-year-old has high hopes that, with their current attacking trio, the Magpies can replicate their form that saw Newcastle finish tenth last campaign.
He said: "It was a disappointing start to the season but I've got to take my hat to the way the team have been playing recently. They were been fighting a relegation battle at the beginning but now you Newcastle can squeeze in the top half of the table if they continue to do well. It's been a complete turnaround in the season.
"I like the fact that Salomón Rondón has got a real asset in (Ayoze) Pérez and (Miguel) Almirón now. He has runners around him and it's been much harder for the opposition. I've been very impressed with Almirón. However, he is still raw and I don't think he has hit his full potential yet. I think he has the makings to be a fantastic player for the club. His movement is ridiculously good and his turn of pace is second to none.
"Pérez has more knowledge and experience of English football and the pair have been very helpful for Rondón. The striking force have done a great job since Christmas and, if we can keep them all fit until the end of the season, I don't see why Newcastle cannot target a top-ten finish."
Joining from French side Lyon in 2000, Bernard forged a memorable left flank partnership with fellow Frenchman Laurent Robert - who joined the club the following summer.
Part of Sir Bobby Robson's young, vibrant squad, the two Frenchmen achieved European qualification for three consecutive seasons on Tyneside, guiding United towards the Champions League knockout stages and a UEFA Cup semi-final.
The left-back revealed the secret behind the pair's impressive displays together on the football pitch, which led to earning a fan favourite status with the supporters.
"It was a perfect partnership with Laurent," Bernard added. "We stayed together nearly 24/7 when we were at the club. We had our respective families but he was always coming around to my house and vice-versa and we'd go almost everywhere with each other.
"That definitely helped with our relationship on the pitch. I knew Laurent by heart - I knew when he would or wouldn't track back and I could understand his game perfectly. We had a fantastic togetherness on the left-hand side of the pitch.
"Without a shadow of a doubt, Laurent was one of, if not, the best partner I had during my entire career. He was a player who could make things happen by himself. His left foot was lethal and, on his day, he was unplayable and could win lots of games. He was a big player for Newcastle at that time and he managed to do very well for the club. He was a pleasure to play with."