We are off to Newcastle today and the one stat that caught my eye was the following: we haven’t lost five consecutive away games since 1925. As it stands, we are on a run of four successive losses on the road.
Our recent home form made the situation look better than it is. Five straight wins were handy indeed, allowing us to steady the league ship and progress to the semis of the Europa League. However our last game, just this Thursday, was a reminder we are still crap away from home.
How we rescued a draw I will never know, when for a period we looked in real danger of going out. The performance for over an hour was nothing short of dismal, but I guess you can assume that much when your first shot on target occurs in the 75th minute.
As you can probably tell by now, I’m not particularly confident going into today’s game. Any team this season appears well capable of causing us problems at their place. A defensively sound Newcastle headed by Rafa Benitez is hardly a tantalising proposition to finally pick up some points on the road.
Somewhat soothing is the fact Newcastle are currently on a 10-game league losing streak against the Gunners. It’s been 13 years since they’ve won at their place too – a slender 1-0 in the distant 2005.
That is offset by our somewhat unconvincing wins vs the Magpies. 9 of our 26 league wins were by a 1-0 scoreline, including the last three games. Newcastle have the air of stubborness when we come knocking recently, and our shambolic away form is hardly the thing to make them beg for mercy.
Team news update
I haven’t actually seen Wenger hold a presser ahead of the game, so we are operating on assumptions here.
Mkhitaryan remains sidelined, albeit the boss said before the CSKA game our Armenian only suffered a sprain, and should be back in a matter of weeks. Xhaka missed out due to illness, but was pictured in training, so should be fine for the game.
Other possible absentees include David Ospina, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. The former is still struggling with an ankle sprain, but Jeorge Bird reported the Columbian was fully involved in the training routine. Jack and Aaron are rumoured to have picked up knocks and are facing a race against time.
I expect heavy rotation after the draining Thursday affair, albeit that may be restricted by actual availability. Let’s do it bit by bit.
Even if Ospina had a training session or two, I think today will come too early for him. It leaves us with Cech, and I’m far from happy with this. I’d throw in Ospina straight away, not the least because Cech is culpable for at least one goal on Thursday. I feel Wenger will disagree with me though.
With the leaky state of our defence I wonder whether the time has come to revert to a back three, especially if one of Jack or Aaron fail to recover, limiting our options in midfield. However Koscielny should be rested at all costs and I have a feeling Wenger is playing it safe with Monreal too.
That leaves us with a back three of Mustafi, Chambers and Holding and I don’t like it, because it means giving minutes to Mustafi. The German has been awful lately, but I see absolutely no chance Wenger will drop him, especially if that means a pair of Holding and Chambers. And let’s face it, Arsene will be right on that last count.
In midfield I’m sure we’ll see Thursday’s MoMhamed Elneny, most likely with Xhaka alongside. Iwobi will likely take up the advanced midfield slot, with Ozil and Welbeck either side and Aubameyang the lone striker.
I’m not sure dropping Ozil again will work. I think we need his creativity, a youngster like Reiss Nelson is hardly going to provide it. However Wenger might take another view of the situation again, opting to protect Ozil especially in Miki’s absence. I’ll take that decision, but only if we are at least half-decent going forward.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Chambers – Kolasinac – Xhaka – Elneny – Iwobi – Ozil – Welbeck – Aubameyang
Player in focus: Mo Elneny
I don’t think there’s anyone else I could have picked after Thursday. Elneny was everywhere, his workrate and conscientiousness is nothing new, but it was his incision that caught the eye.
Two wonderfully weighed through balls to Welbeck and Ramsey rescued us some nerves and dignity and also showed he can be a forward-thinking player. In a team likely stripped of Ramsey and Ozil, we will need the creativity to come from the Egyptian and Iwobi.
Fortunately, Mo has shown he has that in his locker. It will be exciting to see if he can continue his exploits further upfield, however his defensive workrate will be equally important in a team with a defense as shake as ours.
I honestly don’t know anymore if we have what it takes to deliver away from home. We have absolutely shambolic on the road this season, only 25% of our points came from our travels – the lowest in the division. The lowest.
I cannot for the life of me understand how we are so dreadful in half the games while being so good in the other half. Even last season, when we were far from perfect and finally dropped out of the top four, was not that bad.
The only hope we have rests on a semblance of defensive solidity and some spark going forward. That’s the polite way of saying we are crap at both ends of the pitch away from the Emirates. If it were up to me, I’d axe Cech, Mustafi and Wilshere to play Ospina, Holding and Iwobi. Yes, Iwobi. That lad with a comical miss on Thursday.
Hope is always there that we will get better, and frankly, how much worse can we possibly get? I guess we’ll find out in a few short hours. In the meantime…
Come on you Gunners.
Back to review whatever it is we serve up.