On paper, Newcastle’s visit to the Emirates is another eminently winnable game for the Gunners. The Magpies have won 2 and lost 7 of their last 9 games. They’re also without an away this season. That’s relegation form by anyone’s reckoning. Their current plight is an excellent example of the difficult nature of performing consistently on a year-on-year basis. Injuries, European exertions, transfer speculation surrounding key players like Dembe Ba, and other issues have all worked against the Geordies.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are coming into this game on the back of three straight wins. Fitness concerns are diminishing, although how long that will last is anyone’s guess. They’ve also had a midweek break.
All signs points to a straightforward win for the Gunners where they dominate possession create many chances and score some goals. But I’ve a feeling this game will be decided by a narrow margin, which means it could boil down to individual moments in front of goal. A great save, a big tackle, an extraordinary finish, a refereeing blunder, anything could be decisive.
Newcastle have a couple of key players injured. This has affected their creative abilities but they do have goals in the side. Ba and Cisse are exceptional finishers and possess the ability to convert half-chances. Their basic problem is that the duo have limited abilities outside the box. This has made it difficult for both to perform in the same game as only one can spend time as a central attacker.
In this game, Pardew could take a gamble and play both up front in a 4-4-2 with a strongly defensive approach behind them. Two banks of four, disciplined football, and direct attacking could maximize the opportunities for their two best players while protecting their goal. It’d be a very short term approach but when the team is in trouble anything that stems the rot is worth a try. Still, I’m not sure Newcastle will go that way. Such an approach has the potential of giving Arsenal a lot of room in the central third and, as we’ve seen, the Gunners look a completely different team when they’re allowed to build the game at their convenience.
Pardew will probably set his team up to compete in midfield and they’ll show a genuine desire to score. This will provide gaps for Arsenal to exploit, particularly in the wider areas. Both teams will get half-chances and the manner in which either or both attempt to convert promising situations into goals will be worth watching. There should be goals in this game, three at least.
Arsene has a strong squad to pick his starting eleven. The first major choice is in the central striking role. Walcott and Giroud are the prime candidates. Now that Rosicky is back, my personal preference would be Podolski down the middle with Little Mozart on the left and Theo on the right, but I’ll be surprised if we see that trio in those positions.
Rosicky’s availability poses a fresh dilemma for Wenger. The Czech star brings certain useful qualities to the side and would fit in nicely with Cazorla and Co., but where does he play? On the left Podolski has offered decent balance, on the right Arsenal need some pace, and the midfield trio is already very strong. There is a possibility of bringing him in for Wilshere, it’s at least worth trying, but Jack is the biggest hope for the future and every game he plays now adds something to his experience.
Koscielny is another player who deserves more time in the middle. Will Wenger rotate his central defence?
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
At this moment, it’s not difficult to visualize a win, draw, or defeat. Newcastle have enough to frustrate the Gunners if certain moments fall their way. Arsenal have the better team, better form, and a vastly improved fitness situations. It’s up to them to make it count on the table. Wenger’s stronger bench might play a part if it’s still tight late in the game.
I’m travelling this weekend and might not get the chance to write about the game on Saturday, particularly if the performance is not inspiring.Follow @goonerdesi