Man, it feels good to type such a headline once again. Football is back and there is something to look forward to even if it isn’t with the greatest of optimism.
I haven’t done the season preview yet because a lot is bound to happen between now and the end of the season. I want to wait for the transfer window to close and see a couple of games, especially of Chelsea and Liverpool, before making any predictions. I know things are bleak in the Arsenalsphere and don’t look Rosy for Arsenal even through red-tinted glasses. But let’s wait till the end of the month and focus on a game at a time at least till then.
My humble suggestion is – before you do or say anything, just ask yourself “how does this help?”
So with that mantra let me move on to my thoughts before the game.
Cesc and Nasri are not in the squad. Wilshere and Diaby are injured. Denilson has moved on. It wasn’t that long ago that Arsenal had too many similar players vying for the midfield roles. Now, Wenger will be hard pressed to put out a midfield that can dominate the game for 90 minutes.
Looking at the list with squad numbers(Eboue?), only Rosicky, Ramsey, Song, and Frimpong look like players who are fit and available to play in the midfield. Some fans would add RvP and Arshavin to the possibilities behind the striker but pre-season has not given any indications that Wenger will make that change at this stage of the season.
To me, the best possible midfield would be Song and Frimpong behind Rosicky. Ramsey has been extremely disappointing in the warm up fixtures and it would be a big risk to put him in the middle in a game that is set to be a lot more critical to the rest of the season than just the three points at stake. But I have a strong feeling Arsene is going to put his faith in the young Welshman over Frimpong, who is undeniably the most inexperienced player of the four.
Picking the back five and the front three should be straightforward.
Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Ramsey, Rosicky – Gervinho, RvP, Arshavin.
To be frank, and despite my reservations, this team should be good enough to get the three points. Newcastle have issues of their own to deal with. They have lost three key players in Carroll, Nolan, and Enrique. The left-back will be a big miss as he made their left side really strong. Gervinho can have a good time against his replacement.
Arsenal can win this one or throw away the points as they so spectacularly accomplished last time around. A lot will depend on the tactics being used and how the teams perform for the duration of the game. At the risk of breaking all unwritten laws regarding hyperbole, the final half hour of this game might be bigger than any other period of football this season as far as the Gunners are concerned. Or to put it another way, whether Arsenal can get in a position to have other big matches in the season or not will depend on how this game ends.
That’s putting a lot of pressure on the team but I am not creating the pressure, merely point out what already exists.
If the away support continues their good work from last season the team will benefit and it can have a big, positive knock-on effect for the season.
Tactically, Arsenal have to play the way they did away from home last season and then improve on it. That means the team has to drop off and press from deeper positions just inside the Arsenal half or around the half way line. The midfield would have to be really close to the defence must not leave them exposed on the break.
A lot will depend on Newcastle as well. If they sit back and invite pressure this could be a very different game. To be frank, that would work in the hosts’ favour but I haven’t seen Pardew take that approach in the two visits last season when Arsenal scored four.
Rosicky or Ramsey will have to support Song in bringing the ball out and should spread passes from deeper positions. That can open the game up, especially if they can find they can find the runs of Arshavin and Gervinho. As with most football games, the first goal will make a big difference and the timing will decide how the rest of it shapes up.
I am not sure if the Barcodes have enough quality in the final third. That means Arsenal might get away with some mistakes, especially from open play. Set-pieces will be a different ball game altogether and this will be the first competitive test of Arsenal’s new zonal marking system on corners. I am not convinced but there aren’t anywhere near enough data points to analyze or judge that so this is more of a watch and learn stage. I won’t be surprised if the same can be said for the coaching staff in that limited context, while for the players it might be on-the-job training.
Apart from defending set-plays, and the positioning and contribution of the midfield just in front of the defence, the third and final major factor in this game will be the quality of runs and finishing by the attacking players. Of course, a player can make great runs but they would come to nought if the supply is non-existent. Arsenal’s creative chemistry is going to be tested. I haven’t seen signs of great understanding in pre-season so chances might be limited in this game. That brings me back to the importance of finishing. Good chance for Van Persie to establish himself as the biggest player in the team.
Btw, who will be the captain? One of RvP or TV?
Last season, this game was open and led to a number of goals. This time around, I am not sure that will be replicated even though I am hoping for the kind of result we got against Everton a couple of seasons ago. I have a feeling this game will be a cagey affair and decided by a solitary goal.