Let the lion hearted (and lion haired) big man eat. Feed him the ball and he will put it past the Bar Codes!! Lunchtime kickoff in Newcastle…Nom, nom, nom…
You’ve scored 7 goals against the Toonies, so why not? Or is time to change things up? Hmmmm… Get us some goals, leader of the line–if only to mute the deadline day talk about how we’ll never win the league with you up there. Don’t leave the manager wondering…
Regardless of approach, Arsenal need to see out the first month of the new campaign in better fashion than they began it. August looked a promising month–no pesky two-legged Champions League Qualifier and a manageable schedule following a very promising pre-season, where our main task was to bed in our new World-Class goalkeeper, Petr Cech, while the rest of the group merely had to keep-on-keeping-on. We knew our rivals would be pursing every last goofball idea in the transfer market, but, if we could get off to a good start, our cohesion (a word many have since grown to loathe) might be such that we wouldn’t.
Alas, August has, thus far at least, not lived up to its name. Let’s take a closer look:
Luckily, we’ve got one last chance to make it right. (Unless, of course, you count the transfer deadline, which would make it two, although, technically, that’s in September…)
Newcastle are a proud club, but one which seems caught in a very difficult cycle. As much as Arsenal fans sometimes lament our frugality, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has taken his club down a path of austerity which would (almost) qualify him to run the next Greek government. Things were so bad last season that Alan Pardew, a man who made his mark by bringing in undervalued French and Francophone players–perhaps in homage to our own manager–left a reasonably successful situation in the Northeast to take over Crystal Palace. Instead of replacing with a recognized manager, Ashley elected to use an assistant, John Carver and ride him to the bitter end. Indeed it was bitter but could have been worse. Despite losing his dressing room–and match after match after match–Carver did enough to avoid relegation.
Which should makes life a little easier for the man who followed, former England manager, Steve McClaren. His August hasn’t been so august either, but then again, anything would be better than the Newcastle spring and, at least, it does seem to be ending on an uptick. He has been able to eke out a couple of draws in the league and got his first win in midweek vs Northampton in the Capital One Cup. In that one, Florian Thauvin, McClaren’s first exciting French transfer, was at the heart of almost all the offense. Given that the win came off a nil-nil at Old Trafford (with a couple of decent chances to win it on the counter) McClaren has to feel his group is in with a shout against an Arsenal squad which has yet to realize all the promise we felt heading into the new season. We should beware Thauvin (who might get his first league start of the season) as well as others McClaren has brought in including Aleksander Mitrovic and Georginio Wijnaldum. Additional threat is presented from holdovers like Demba Pappis Cisse, Ayoze Perez and Gabriel Obertan. Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor and midfielders like Cheik Tiote, Jack Colback and Vernon Anita may lack flair but tend to maintain strong organization ahead of the big Dutch goalkeeper, Tim Krul, a guy who, on his day, can both command his box and pull off the outstanding save.
As such, this feels like a(nother) big one and a(nother) one not to take as a given. Seven points from twelve wouldn’t be the best return from our first four matches but it would be a manageable total, especially if, as Arsene Wenger says, we are “looking for solutions” but not close to signing anybody as the transfer window closes. Four (or five) points from twelve would be a good deal less acceptable to most Gooners, especially if league leaders, Manchester City, take care of business on their home pitch against newly promoted Watford. Woe be unto the Gooner-nation IF we fail to win at Newcastle AND are inactive at the deadline–even if (most probably) the manager doesn’t see the two events connected in any way, shape or form.
How then should Wenger set out the team against Newcastle? Stay the course or mix things up? Fitness news suggests our central defensive pairing which missed the Liverpool match might–or might not–be ready for this one. Should other changes be considered? A popular narrative is that Ramsey is wasted on the right (even if he seems to be playing in a very free role, almost as a 3rd deeper lying central midfielder). Others were unimpressed by the usual characters (Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Giroud). Yet others noted that Alexis Sanchez doesn’t quite seem at full fitness and Wenger could mix things up in a big way if he were to be used as an option from the bench. Still others suggest that, if Arsenal need full points, playing Francis Coquelin as a dedicated defensively-minded midfielder compromises our attack.
Given the uncertainties in central defense I think it’s premature to drop Coquelin. I also think Wenger would prefer to continue with as few changes as possible. Alexis surely wants–and likely needs–game time. He’s been a bit more, er, watchful, i.e., less of an all action type, but maybe a word in his ear to interchange and fill spaces with the other attackers is all that is necessary. Whereas we found Giroud (and later Walcott) forced out wide due to too many bodies central in the opener vs West Ham, I believe we’ve found a better balance through Ramsey’s movement from the nominal wide-right starting position. It hasn’t yielded goals (in droves) as of yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. Here’s my prediction for the first 11, miracle recoveries at CB included.
Bench: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Debuchy, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott
Obviously, I’m just guessing at this. What do you guys say? Predictions for this match? For the close of the window? For all things Arsenal?
I like playing our match early (even if we’ve had a bit of a struggle in this time-slot in recent seasons). Any worries on that front? Why worry at all? Enjoy the football and may it all be, well,… August!