Four Points behind Chelsea? Barcodes v Gunners Preview & Line-up

Newcastle – Arsenal  Match Preview

 How does Arsenal respond to coming up short in Monaco?

d14-02-12 Spurs H P1

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.

ars v new March 15

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…

By 17highburyterrace

Cazorla takes the Papiss, Girouffe Aerial King of the Savannah: Match Afterthoughts.

Arsenal 4 – 1 Newcastle United: The dawn of a new era?

Is Arsene changing our system and style of play?
Is Arsene changing our system and style of play?

I don’t always watch an Arsenal game twice, but this time it was worth it. During the first round I was influenced by alcohol intake, but the second watching was entirely sober. After the first watching I wondered how we had shaped ourselves, especially from an attacking point of view. I also wanted to know whether we are playing more of a 4-1-2-3, or indeed a 4-1-5 at the moment.

I always feel we need to play with one holding DM, who sits back and protects the back-four. The BFG is a great defender but we need to play to his strengths, which is organisation and controlling the defence. For that he needs fast players around him, and a strong, classic DM in front of him, and not to have to push up too much. I thought Flamini did quietly a great job in protecting the back four on Saturday. He stayed back and allowed both Ox and Santi to attack; yet, the more attack minded central midfielders were also disciplined in helping Flam out if and when the Magpies ventured forward.

So, it looked like we played 4-1-2-3 with the ‘2’ being asked to help out in defence and keep their discipline as much as was deemed necessary: and Ox and Santi handled this very well throughout the game. It is too early to say whether this is a shift in formation and style of play, but from what we saw on yesterday it offers at least an interesting alternative. 

There was a very good balance to our team and tactically it worked a treat. The Chav-Slayers were set up to sit back and absorb pressure, but with five pressing and continuously moving players up-front – Giroud, Alexis, Ox, Welbeck, Santi – and two eager and dynamic FBs, the Barcodes were never able to settle – a big difference from their previous game where they took control after some initial pressure by the Southern Oilers. Our attacks in the first half often lacked cohesion and focus and as a result we were only one up at half time, but they also had thoroughly knackered out the Newcastle team with their sheer unpredictability and continuous pressure.

In the second half, we used Giroud much more as our attacking pivot, which gave us a bit more shape and structure. In the first half, after a great interception by Hector-Vector, Giroud had received the ball in the prototypical way: with his back towards goal in the middle of the opponent’s half. He found Sanchez with a quick, sharp pass and was back in a flash to tower home like a giraffe the Chilean’s superbly placed cross: a very good, classical goal.

But, we did not use him as our pivot often enough during the first 45 minutes imo.

On the other hand, Welbeck and Alexis were a constant menace and Ox and Santi provided both thrust and ingenuity. There were a few dimensions to our attack and Danny was very unfortunate not to be given his goal, after the slightest of touches had brought Janmaat tumbling down like a crashing aeroplane, and the weakest of referees, Lee Mason, had ruled it, pathetically, a foul. I could say so much about Mason, but it is best to concentrate on the game…

2-0 at half time would have been a fair reflexion of our dominance, although we have to thank Szczesny wholeheartedly for a superb double safe of Williamson and Papiss Cisse’s efforts, from Colback’s fine free-kick (who really impressed me throughout the entire game: possible the best all-round midfielder on the pitch).

However, I feel we attacked better in the second half: there was more focus and directness, and using Giroud as our pivot, as well as the initially impressive Coloccini starting to wane, played a key role. The second goal saw Alexis produce unselfishly his second assist of the game; but most of the credit should go to Santi, who took the ball well past a defender, managed to stay on his feet and then tricked the goalie with a sublime piece of skill of Bergkampesque quality. To score a goal like that on your 30th birthday is of course bliss, and it set the scene for more cheekiness.

It was soon 3-0: Bellerin had made a great run to the by-line and delivered a cool and measured low cross to the well-positioned (Danny take note) Giroud. The towering Girouffe had to work his feet for this one, and as he is left footed and the angle was very tight, he decided to use his left foot to redirect – pinball – the ball towards goal, leaving Alnwick utterly bamboozled and no time to respond. Cheeky – Cheeky 🙂

The Magpies got one back from a clever free kick by their MOTM and a well placed header by (also impressive) Perez, but of course, we should have defended that one much, much better. However, credit goes to the team for not changing their shape and keep believing in their (at least on the night) superior qualities. At this stage, the trio of BFG-Debuchy-Flamini stood strong with fine blogs and interceptions, and above all, keeping it tight (with help of others of course). We gave away too many free-kicks though – the only way they were ever going to score against us was from set-pieces, so should have known better – as the likes of Bellerin, and especially the experienced Giroud, should have spotted that Mason was apparently desperate to give the Barcodes preferential treatment at every occasion.

However, it took another 25 minutes to fully settle the match once and forever. I reckon Danny is a work in progress and there are a few areas he will have to improve in, if he is to make it at Arsenal long term as a first-eleven player, but two of his unquestionable strengths are his athleticism and stamina. Dummett had had a decent game until the 88th minute, but sheer fatigue by him let to his foul of Duracell-Danny, and up steps birthday-boy Santi to take the pen.

We all know how he took it: cheeky – cheeky – cheeky: totally taking the Papiss 😀 I am not a big fan of the ‘dinked penalty’, but given the score and the special occasion for Santi, and of course the fact that he got away with it, I forgive him. 4-1 to the good guys, some very good football, three points in the bag and the perfect preparation for a tough test against the Dippers next weekend: Bring it on!

So it is Monaco in the CL. For once the draw is a happy one not just for the favourites (just look at Munich and Real draws….) but also for the Gunners. Wenger will know a lot about this club and we should have a good chance to go through as long as we don’t underestimate them.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

A Minute Applause for Barcodes: Preview & Line-up Arsenal v Newcastle

Gibbs and Pod to rediscover their previous excellent partnership?
Gibbs and Pod to rediscover their previous excellent partnership?

….Well that is what they deserve if you ask me!

For many of us the loss to Stoke deeply overshadowed the far more joyous occurrence of the Barcodes smashing the Chavs in a well-deserved victory. In normal circumstances, our team losing is far more painful than one of our main competitors losing, but, at least for me, the reverse is the case this time round.

Papiss-Ciss--after-scorin-012

The Chavs losing to Newcastle was good in many ways:

  1. Of course, it ended any possibility they would go unbeaten a whole season. Only special teams achieve something colossal like this… 😉
  2. It proved once again that if you play Maureen at his own game, his team will struggle. Newcastle sat back and were tightly organised, and the Chavs did not take their half-decent chances. The Barcodes did play them on the counter and they did take their chances, albeit with a bit of fortune, at least on the first one. Except for the last ten minutes, Pardew’s men were in control of the game and a lot of praise should go to their man at the helm.
  3. Even though we failed to close the gap, there remains hope that we can make up ground over the next few months. It is unlikely we will catch them but they have shown they are vulnerable and can be beaten as long as you play them at their own game. Other teams will have taken note of how Newcastle beat the Chavs and I expect the fear factor to have diminished now.
  4. The PL competition is a competition again. The Chavs dropped five points in three games and the rest is catching up. The smirk on Maureen’s face is quickly turning into that typical grumpy contortion of his. Happy Days! 😛

So I reckon we should give the Barcodes a minute applause for their clever and well-deserved win last Saturday. They have done us a massive favour!

Predicted Team v Newcastle United. 

Hayden to step up and Pod to get a start. Welbeck could start instead of Giroud or even Alexis... Ox to replace Rambo.
Hayden to step up and Pod to get a start. Welbeck could start instead of Giroud or even Alexis… Ox to replace Rambo.

For tomorrow’s game, early team news is not good. Three CB covers are out: Koz, Nacho, Chambers. Ramsey is out as well. However, the Pod will get a chance against Newcastle as the boss just confirmed.

We should expect the Barcodes to play similar to the way they beat the Chavs and be aware of their counterattacks. For me, this means Flamini as DM and the defence not sitting too high up the pitch. We also need our FBs to be disciplined: only one at a time going forward and good communication with the midfielders and CBs at all times. We also need Giroud back to ram the CBs and create space by occupying them. Ollie was rested and so were Cazorla, Welbeck and Sexy-Alexis. So we should have fresh, eager fire-power up-front. With Ramsey out, it should be Ox or (ideally) Rosicky as the b2b, and the team picks itself to a large extent. A big role for the Ox tomorrow, I reckon: he might hold the key in midfield…

Key question is who will partner the BFG at the back, and it looks like Gerry will get his wish with Hayden stepping up.

I am looking forward to this one, but then I always do. OGAAT – TIANG-YANG – UTA – COYRRG and all that!

Written by: TotalArsenal.