We face Newcastle at the Emirates today, and this gives us another chance at redemption. A third one after losing to United.
While I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic given the way we’ve played recently, two things make me somewhat calmer we won’t shoot ourselves in the foot once again: it’s a home fixture and Newcastle have been abysmal recently.
Arsene Wenger’s men have won 9 games against Newcastle on the trot, both home and away. The goal difference we have amassed during those is +16: 22 scored and 6 conceded. The Gunners boast 5 successive home wins vs the Magpies too.
We seem to be quite good at dispatching newly-promoted teams too, winning 28 of the last 33 matches and drawing the other five. Our last defeat happened over 5 years ago – in March 2012 vs QPR. Finally, Wenger’s men appear better at keeping their goal intact than we think, shutting our opponents out 8 times in 17 games – only United (10) have been the better team in this metric.
Newcastle, meanwhile, are definitely in a spot of bother, Rafa’s men lost 10 of their 17 league games, and 7 of their last 8. Their last league win – 1-0 vs Palace – happened almost two months ago, on October 21. The Magpies are also quite bad away from home – their one and only win on the road is dated September 10, against Swansea.
Having said all that, we obviously can’t take the game for granted. On too many occasions we have handed a lifeline to teams doing poorly (Everton last season and Southampton before that, anyone?), so we need to turn up and perform to the maximum.
Team news update
At least two players will miss this game: Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. The former’s hamstring injury will, as expected, keep him out of action for the minimum of three weeks:
“Aaron Ramsey will not be available, I said that he will be out for a little longer and that will be maybe three weeks that he is not in contention.” – Arsene Wenger
Well, that’s just what you get with hamstring injuries. Very rarely are those mild enough to only keep the player out for a week or two. Taking Ramsey’s long history of calf and hamstring injuries I won’t be surprised if we don’t see him for longer than three weeks.
Walcott, meanwhile, is suffering from a groin injury:
“He had a little groin problem. He would have been in the squad at West Ham. He will not be available tomorrow I think as well.”
I’m a little skeptical here truth be told. Walcott seems to have those mysterious niggling injuries all season, but miraculously recovers to play in Europa League or the League Cup. I won’t bat an eyelid if he starts on Tuesday.
Our only remaining absentee might be Shkodran Mustafi, who’s having a late fitness test:
“Mustafi is back in training today. I don’t know if I will include him tomorrow, it’s still a little gamble and apart from that we will have to see how everybody recovers. We’ll see today in training, but we have no basic problem.”
Taking into account Koscielny’s performances have deteriorated in the last few weeks, I’d really want to see Mustafi start, paired with Monreal. It’ll be a little harder if we revert to a back three, in which case ideally I’d like to see either Holding or Chambers. It is my firm believe Koscielny should be rested and Mertesacker should be omitted after the Southampton shambles.
Player in focus: Jack Wilshere
Wilshere made his first start for Arsenal in the league in over a year on Wednesday. It’s a bit more dramatic than it sounds of course, as he was loaned out to Bournemouth for the entirety of last season.
Still, he undoubtedly had to wait for his chance to come at least this season, and come it did when Ramsey’s hamstring popped like a prematurely opened champagne bottle. Jack has been our standout performer against West Ham, adding at least some penetration with his dribbling and passing.
The man himself said in the aftermath of the draw there’s more to come from him:
“I felt good, I’ve played a few games this year, not the Premier League but in the Europa League and the Carabao Cup. I’m fit and I was happy to get the opportunity tonight. I thought I done alright. There’s a little bit more to come but I’m happy with my performance.”
Arsene Wenger was reasonably happy with Wilshere’s performance:
“I think it was an encouraging performance. He suffered certainly a little bit in the last 20, but we were in a position where we had to attack, so I left him on the pitch because of course he can contribute to that, but overall it’s a positive. He has been very patient and worked very hard.”
However the Frenchman remained somewhat coy on whether the Englishman will start again today, citing a packed schedule (4 games in 9 days) and hence a need to rotate.. Much depends on the system Wenger wants to go with, of course, but I think Wilshere just has to start if fit.
We don’t have Aaron Ramsey, I still think Xhaka’s best position for the time being is on bench, and that means we have Coquelin, Elneny and Wilshere left. Iwobi too, but I can’t see the Nigerian effectively operating in a two.
It’s going to be tricky to second-guess Wenger and even trickier to distinguish between what I think is reasonable and what the Frenchman will do.
I’ll take a punt and say we will stick with a back four. In case Mustafi recovers, I’d really like to see him paired with Monreal to rest Koscielny, however I’m pretty sure the Frenchman will start again. That means Monreal has to give way, unless of course Wenger drops Kolasinac.
Truth be told, it’s the idea I quite fancy, given the Bosnian’s recent form. Monreal’s been quietly brilliant all season and deserves to be involved from the off, however I can’t shake off a nasty feeling he’ll be the fall guy if we stick to the back four.
What Wenger chooses to do in midfield is entirely unpredictable. Like with Koscielny, I think Xhaka will start again. Who are the guys to slot next to him? If it’s a 4-2-3-1 the options will be Coquelin and Elneny, if Wenger fields a flat trio I’m sure Wilshere will make the cut. The reasonable counterweight will be Elneny then, not Iwobi.
As for the front three, it should be Alexis, Ozil and Lacazette once more. I’m not particularly pleased with Alexis, however he appears to be undroppable for the manager and, more importantly, he’s certainly preferable to Welbeck. Danny has been awful on Wednesday. An alternative would be Iwobi or even Wilshere, the latter allowing for a more conservative, and better defensively balanced, midfield.
Finally, Olivier Giroud should make way for his compatriot Alexandre Lacazette. The elder Frenchman has a very good record vs the Magpies (8 goals in total, 5 in the last 4 home games), but he was shut out on Wednesday, and Newcastle can make life hard for him on that basis. Not to mention Lacazette is our record signing, most clinical finisher and most prolific goalscorer this season.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Mustafi – Kolasinac – Xhaka – Wilshere – Elneny – Ozil – Alexis – Lacazette
Without a shadow of a doubt Newcastle will try to do what West Ham and Southampton did. They can also throw in intermittent high press to further complicate our lives. They have the players for that, like Christian Atsu, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle.
What is also undisputed is our need to get the three points to at least partially atone for dropped ones in the last week. For that we need to snap out of our trance and kick our passing game into a higher gear. The game against Huddersfield proved we are simply unplayable when on our game. We need to get that spark back. Wenger himself acknowledged that:
“Maybe we have to speed up our passing and have more penetrating runs in the final third to create more chances. Maybe we need support for our central strikers in the box as well.”
So come on you Gunners.
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