Newcastle – Arsenal Match Preview
How does Arsenal respond to coming up short in Monaco?
From the glamour of Monte Carlo and European nights, Arsenal must travel to the furthest reaches of its own league and (somehow) get back to the more mundane task of trying to wrest 3 points from the always stubborn Magpies of Newcastle.
In the return leg of our Champions League round of 16 tie in Monaco, Arsenal played with spirit and determination and scored two goals, but it was not enough. We can debate about the away goals rule or whether Arsenal was naive (or just wasteful) in the first leg or whether English football just isn’t at the requisite level to compete with the best of the continent. In the end, however, the only way to get back into the Champions league is to finish in the top 4 back home in the Premier league. It may not be as exciting as an elimination match in the world’s biggest club competition, but going to Tyneside and replicating the effort and performance we saw on the Cote d’Azure–and bringing back full points from our trip to Newcastle–is probably, in the end, just as important.
Somehow we have to see what happened in Monaco not as the massive disappointment it is but as another gritty win in a tough away stadium. Before that match we did likewise at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarterfinals and we’ve had other good road wins, most notably on the other side of Manchester at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City. In fact, with the exception of the very disappointing loss to a team just up the road (and the new year’s day loss at Southampton) Arsenal have been perfect on their travels in 2015. Our form even has some wondering if it’s possible to close the 7 point gap (plus a game in hand) on league leaders Chelsea.
Personally, I think that gap is probably too large, but I’m certainly open to seeing Chelsea drop points, come back to the chasing pack and open up the title race. They dropped a pair of points a week ago vs Southhampton after their own exit from the Champions league, and now have to travel to relegation-threatened Hull City, so why not?
More realistic, and probably more to the point, is our own path towards getting back into the big tournament. Our good run of league results has us well positioned in 3rd place just a point behind (last year’s league champions) Manchester City, but other teams are queuing up for the run-in. Manchester United sit only a point behind us, but they have to travel to Anfield and face down the most in-form of all the English clubs, Liverpool, in a real 6 pointer. Their hosts only trail them by 2 points and could thus leapfrog them into the CL spots. We can only play our own match, of course. As such, if we can win at Newcastle, all looks good heading into the two week international break. If we drop points up there, however, we drop into the fray and the time away goes from a nice respite to (our more usual?) Arsenal angst. With our next league match at home vs Liverpool, things could get even more uncomfortable.
As such, the importance of putting our disappointments into the rear view and giving our very best in Newcastle is extreme. Luckily the opponent is struggling with injuries, suspensions and a run of bad results. Moreover, sitting in 11th place, they can afford further bad results without dropping into a real relegation battle. Still, it would be wise to beware the wounded animal and Newcastle teams (and their supporters) always offer a prideful effort. Underestimating them would be a mistake.
Hosting Arsenal with all the circumstances they currently face, in fact, should allow Newcastle to play in an unfettered, attacking, nothing to lose manner. Papiss Demba Cisse and Fabricio Coloccini, the (spitting) head and tail (and hairstyle) of their outfield spine will be missing through suspension. Additionally, defenders Paul Dummett, Massaido Haidara and Steven Taylor are out injured, along with midfielders Rolando Aarons, Mehdi Abeid, Siem de Jong and Cheick Tiote. Interim manager John Carver is suggesting, in fact, that he may not even be able to fill out his bench, claiming that he has only 13 outfield players (and two keepers) fit enough to wear the barcode kit.
Even if true, I’d still expect Newcastle to offer a game plan based on resistance but with a stronger urge to attack and a hope to simply outscore us. In other words, we cannot take them too lightly or hope to ease into the match. Players like Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Perez are fine attacking players who can score goals if given the chance. Remy Caballa is a very tricky ball handler and Yoan Goufran, while not as flashy, is a player who always puts in a shift, as does Jack Colback. Gabriel Obertan and Emmanuel Riviere, on their day, can also be a handful for any defender; Sammy Ameobi may not be as stout as his older brother Shola (recently transferred to Crystal Palace) but is tall enough to present a target for crosses. Their back line will be makeshift, but at least they have Argentine international Jonas Gutierrez back from his battle with testicular cancer. The balance of the team is heavy in attack, so, just as we might ask Jonas himself, will one ball be enough?
Cancer jokes are probably a step too far, but Arsenal must fight a disease of their own–complacency. Can the group cope with their European disappointment, get back to business and beat Newcastle? Focus and determination would seem the best prescriptive antidotes, but will we bring them? Who will Arsene Wenger use to fight off any sense of self-pity amongst the collective and move us forward?
My guess is that we will see a largely unchanged squad from Tuesday night. Luckily, nobody took more than psychological knocks in that match but certainly many looked tired and Wenger will have to have a keen eye for those who seem more hungover than others. Tomas Rosicky who missed both the Monaco and West Ham matches due to illness, is back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays at least some role on the day.
Here’s my best guess for a starting 11.
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Cazorla, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott
That’s only one change from Tuesday (Aaron Ramsey for Santi Cazorla) but then again I’m not privy to watching the lads in training and trying to note who might really not be up for another big effort. Many pundits are noting that Alexis has not played as well in the new year and has only scored a single goal in his last 11 appearances. Even off the boil he presents such a threat that I cannot see sitting him ahead of the international break. (If he were to get a bench seat, would his spot be taken by Walcott or Rosicky?) It’s also possible that Giroud rests. Wenger brought him off the bench the last time we traveled in England, in the FA Cup match at Manchester United. I don’t see that particular change but, by the same token, it seems harsh to suggest a bench place for Santi Cazorla given his great play in a slightly deeper role. Ramsey’s recent goals, however, would seem to merit a place in the team. along, perhaps, with the greater physicality and excellent workrate he offers. Maybe Welbeck (or Alexis and/or Giroud) sits so both Santi and AR can play, which perhaps is a more defensive scheme and a wise thought in light of so many attackers in the Newcastle squad. As always, what (the f**k) do I know?
Not too much probably. What do YOU know? What do others think about this match and the larger issues about this Arsenal team–our exit from the Champions league and our chances back in England? At this point we only have 9 league matches remaining–and the adventure(s) at Wembley in the FA Cup. How far can we go (up or down)? Does it matter? Comments on the blog have really dropped off, perhaps due to our fearless leader (Total Arsenal) being pre-occupied with real world responsibilities (aka a job…) and not posting. Are we bored with our club, with football, or (maybe) with life? What’s up people?
Personally, I’m glad we’ve got a match (and I rather dread the International break), but that’s just me… Hopefully our Gunners (and you Gooners) feel likewise…