Koscielny on track to return and partner Gabriel as Gunners look to secure a vital away win

Giroud vs Newcastle

We face Newcastle today and, once again, we badly need to win the game. It’s kind of funny to be in such a position 3 games in, but our less than spectacular start ensured we need a second away win in a row.

Interestingly enough, we have a very good record away from home: 6 wins and a draw in our last 7 games. So the last time Arsenal lost a game away from home was early February, at Spurs. I wonder whether this is not a simple coincidence, cause our home (as you no doubt heard countless times already) is pretty appalling.

Maybe it’s the atmosphere? Home fans tend to show their displeasure more often, simply because it doesn’t take much effort. Whereas demonstrating displeasure away is a more difficult task: it takes dedication to travel and support your team away, so away fans have less desire for bullshit.

Wenger also think home form can be related to the atmosphere:

“Our results away from home, with goalscoring opportunities and our finishing percentage has been higher recently.

Teams come and defend very deep at our home, so as long as we have not scored the first goal it is maybe more difficult to open up the defences and in the recent two games that is what happened to us.

Maybe we are not firing on all cylinders at the moment. By definition, the finishing is a little bit cyclical and it goes in cycles. Finishing qualities come and go and you do not always know why, but certainly at the moment we want it so much at home that we’re trying to force it a little bit.

It doesn’t look natural enough in our finishing qualities because we want to force the situation a little too much.”

Forcing it too much to please the fans, apparently. Or because the pressure is getting to the players. Whatever it is, right now we have to get used to the fact our away results are better than home ones.

Better away from home right now


We have a pretty good record against Newcastle. We haven’t lost to the Magpies in 9 games, winning seven on the trot. Naturally, we won both games last season, 4-1 at home and 2-1 away respectively. Newcastle aren’t also very adept at scoring against us: last time they scored more than one was during that memorable 7-3 encounter in 2012-2013.

Our main man against the Steve McLaren’s side is Olivier Giroud: the Frenchman scored 3 goals in 2 games last year, all of them headed goals. On overall, he scored 5 headed goals from just 5 shots on target.

Newcastle’s campaign also hardly started with a bang: the Magpies managed two draws and a loss in the opening three games. However, they demonstrated resolute football against United in their last outing, something that ensured Newcastle got a point and a clean sheet; they also won their midweek cup game convincingly – by beating Northampton 4-1.

Their most two dangerous men are Florian Thauvin (who bagged a hat-trick of assists midweek) and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who proved a constant thorn in the side of United’s defence.

Mitrovic – the one to keep an eye on

Team news update

Wilshere and Welbeck were earmarked to return after the international break, we already knew that. The more interesting (and worrisome bit) concerns Mertesacker and Koscielny:

“Mertesacker is still sick and we will know more about Koscielny today. He might have a test on his back today and I will certainly know more tomorrow morning. The less likely to be fit is Mertesacker.”

Mertesacker has a chest infection, didn’t take part in training today, so he is unlikely to feature. Koscielny, however, trained with the main group today and this suggests he should be ready: if so, I expect him to start alongside Gabriel.

Newcastle’s only doubt is Moussa Sissoko, who faces a late fitness test.

Squad and approach

I feel more and more stupid by the day, especially when opposition managers say things like that:

“To beat any of the top four teams you need to defend well, be compact and heroic.

We need to repeat that and be better on the ball especially at home where we need to keep the ball better than we did last week.

“With a sell-out crowd behind us we can hopefully make it very difficult for Arsenal.”

“Better on the ball” is not saying much, since Newcastle only enjoyed 31% possession in their last league game with only 71% pass accuracy. However, the first bit “defend well and be compact” indicates Arsenal will once again play against a deep defending side.

Newcastle were pretty careless in possession last weekend

The common theme that ran through most posts from Arsenal bloggers was how we could beat teams parking the bus. Two suggestions are the most discussed: width and pace. Andrea talks width here, while the lack of movement in this current Arsenal set-up is addressed here.

However, I don’t really expect changes, bar Koscielny for Chambers. Wenger seems to hold Ramsey in very high regard and is reluctant to drop the Welshman in order to add another dribbler or winger.

This Ramsey obsession (may I be excused) can also stem from the fact Bellerin plays at right-back. While I’m not in any way taking a stab at the young Spaniard, he is sometimes more careless in his movements, relying on his speed when caught out of position. To give us a bit more security (and Hector a bit more protection), Wenger may be inclined to use Ramsey.

And look, this whole “Ramsey on the wing” debate (cheers, Dave!) can be a tad inflated. I’m guilty of this too, of course. If you ask me even now, I’d say “drop Ramsey and play Ox” to give us width, but we haven’t been too shabby going forward in the last two games in terms of chances created, shots taken etc. etc. Sure, our play is a bit lopsided, as Ramsey constantly drifts inside to create overloads, but I’m perfectly fine with that as long as the tactic bears fruit in attack and Rambo gets back in position when switching back to defence.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Gabriel – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Alexis – Ramsey – Giroud

Koscielny set to re-claim his place at the heart of our defence

The verdict

As always, I believe we have enough quality in the side to beat the opponent at hand. I’m not too worried Mert won’t make the game if Koscielny does, since Mitrovic isn’t much of an air threat. Also, the Koscielny-Gabriel partnership is quite intriguing I think you’ll agree.

It’s what happens further up the pitch that troubles me more. We showed against Palace and Liverpool we can create chances, now we need to take a further step: start converting these chances. I’m not talking only about Giroud here: Alexis, Ozil, Cazorla can all contribute more than they did. In fact, the only goal scored by our player was a stunner from Giroud, so he must be under fire less.

That’s it from me for now. Fingers crossed Arsenal have what it takes to get a win and then we’ll get to enjoy an uninterrupted couple of days of the transfer window with all the rumours and crazy money for bang average players. The mere thought of this makes me drool (heavy sarcasm).

Until later and don’t forget to tune in to the ever-brilliant Ryan Worthy of Guuners Town Rabble TV for the live game commentary here.

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