Few teams will win at St. James’ Park this season. Arsenal’s hard fought triumph will count for three points on the table but it’s worth more because some, probably most, of the rivals will drop points when visiting Newcastle. That this result was achieved without key players like Ramsey and Özil makes it all the more pleasing.
Wenger knew this game was going to be a battle and this was reflected in his decision to start Rosicky in a central role with Cazorla on the left flank. The Spaniard is undeniably a greater creative threat but the Czech star offers more energy and tenacity in the centre of the park. It was a matter of deciding which qualities will be needed more and Wenger got it spot on. Cazorla’s defensive weaknesses were visible throughout the game as Debuchy enjoyed plenty of time and space in the offensive areas. From a tactical point of view it’s always better to concede space out wide rather than down the middle, and that was the reason Arsenal remained relatively secure at the back for the most part.
I thought the attack lacked a bit of cohesion but it was understandable given the absence of Arsenal’s most decisive players. Newcastle also deserve credit for their hard work and discipline in the central areas and on the edge of their box. They did lose concentration on one set-piece and the Gunners made it count. It wasn’t the kind of goal we see often – I’d like to find out how many goals Giroud has scored from a set-piece – but the ability to find a solution when conventional methods aren’t working is always a sign of a strong side.
The missed chance immediately after the goal was disappointing. Just a little more composure from either Walcott or Giroud might have made the end a lot more comfortable.
The defence was tested throughout the game and they stood up to the challenge admirably. Most of the attacks early on where from the wider areas and they didn’t result in clear shots on goal. Had Debuchy controlled that ball over the top early in the game we might have seen an entirely different encounter, but defending remains much, much easier than attacking because it’s always hard for any player to convert such moments into shots, and shots into goals. You can’t blame the team too much if that’s all they’re conceding. Furthermore, the defenders did well after that initial opportunity and got tighter to runners who did manage to control such passes.
The last 15-20 minutes felt like a separate game altogether. Ameobi came on and Newcastle went long at every opportunity. The Gunners were pushed deep into their own half and Wenger responded by asking Sagna to play as an auxiliary central defender. It was backs-to-wall stuff but the players did just about enough to cover for each other. They made good clearances or attacked the second ball when the initial attempt didn’t get the ball out of the danger zone. It was effective, even if somewhat difficult to bear. Luck is also a factor when the team has to rely on multiple clearances and the presence of numerous bodies in the box.
In such circumstances, I do wish the team learns to keep the ball for longer periods and is alert to counter-attacking chances. For instance, that moment when an early throw would have seen Bendtner clear in the Newcastle half late in the game highlights the need for remaining switched on.
Cardiff at home is another must win game…
Wins at West Ham and Newcastle have given the Gunners a great end to an impressive year. They’ve also taken Wenger’s side back to the summit. But as we’ve seen with Liverpool over the last couple of matchdays, two blips and the side could drop out of the top four. There just isn’t any kind of wiggle room and that makes this game against Cardiff at home another must win encounter.
It should be a simple enough game tactically. The visitors will defend the central areas and rely on long balls and counter-attacks for breaking forward. Their chief threat is aerial but they also have good pace in their ranks. Arsenal have won against the Welsh side recently and it’s hard to imagine many things that have changed. Cardiff have the second worst away form in the League and if the Gunners perform anywhere close to their potential they should take the three points fairly comfortably
That said, complications can arise if Wenger can’t put out a strong-ish line up. Ramsey, Özil, Gibbs, and Giroud are likely to miss this game. That shouldn’t be a problem in itself. Things could get troublesome if Monreal, Walcott, Rosicky, or other players are also declared unfit.
We might see,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sagna – Arteta, Cazorla, Flamini – Walcott, Bendtner, Podolski.
Wenger has to keep an eye on the FA Cup tie against Spurs at the weekend. He needs a strong side for that one too.
The above line-up assume both Monreal and Vermaelen are ill. If fit, they should both start. Gnabry could also be a good choice for a game like this.
Once again there are many permutations that Wenger could choose from depending on player availability. He needs to find the right balance between attack and defence. That means a team capable of breaking through a narrow, deep-lying defence, and a unit capable of defending against long balls, crosses, set-pieces, and quick breaks by one or two players.
Arsenal’s home form isn’t the best in the League and this game provides a good opportunity to improve on that. Any dropped points here will bring the pressure straight back on.
Arsenal had a great 2013 but the year didn’t start well for the team. Here’s hoping 2014 just gets better starting with the opening game. Wishing you all a very happy new year.Follow @goonerdesi