It’s the first game of 2016 for The Arsenal today and at this time of the year, everybody is naturally looking at fresh beginnings, at opportunities and at making resolutions they will have kicked in to touch by mid February at the latest. The resolution I am hoping from the players and the manager are to see through what was started in August and win the Premier League. Doing so requires similar levels of consistency that were shown in 2015, so today has to be all about three points, against a Newcastle team that has struggled all season.
Of course, the fact that Newcastle remain in the bottom three doesn’t mean that we’ll be finding ourselves merrily observing a slaughter of some magpies, because this league is never so simple. But if Arsenal are to win this league this season, today needs to look routine, even if only on paper, so we need the players to step up and get us three points secured come 5pm.
Steve McClaren has hinted that there might be more of the same roughhousing that saw Mitrovic sent off and a host of yellow cards from the Geordies in August. If he wants his team to adopt the same mentality, that’s fine by me, because I don’t think whoever is reffing today will be as lenient as they were at St James’ Park. On that day I’m pretty sure there could have been two or three red cards and with some vociferous home support bleating every time a foul was correctly called, I can understand why a ref might have been a bit reluctant to give us everything, even if it would have been the right thing to do.
If Newcastle try the same tactics at The Emirates, the home fans will be just as vociferous in voicing displeasure, so I’d expect the referee – whoever it is – to act in the reverse of giving the foulers less leeway.
As for us, our game plan needs to be simple: retain possession and break down a Newcastle team who are suspect defensively and take our chances. That means more good performances from Walcott, Campbell/The Ox, Giroud and most importantly, Özil. He is the main man at the moment and everything successful about the team this season appears to flow from him. So we need to see him perform. Indeed, in the reverse of this fixture in August, Özil was missing and the result perhaps reflected that. We struggled against 10 men for that killed touch, that perfectly waited ball in behind the back four and although we won, we made it very difficult for ourselves. I hope the same cannot be said about today.
Newcastle are missing Vurnon Anita, but perhaps more crucially, they also might be missing their reserve ‘keeper Rob Elliot. The guy has played well as a stand in for Krul and last weekend his replacement was hardly spectacular, having a game to forget and probably at fault for the West Brom goal. If he’s called upon today, it might sound cruel, but we need to target him, so putting him under pressure with balls into the box – whilst not really Arsenal’s style – is something we should consider. We do more aerial activity in the box these days, I know, but what I mean by that statement is that we don’t usually specifically target areas of weakness in opponents. Arsène likes to worry about how his own team are set up and not so much that of the opposition, but I’d like to think that we might try a few extra balls down the ‘keepers throat today and see what happens.
I would like to think we can maintain our position as top of the table. After the FA Cup third round game against Sunderland our next few league games include Liverpool and Stoke away, so I’d expect us to drop points somewhere, we always do. But it makes games like today important to ensure that if we do drop points, we’re still in the mix. That’s essential and that’s why we need to win today to stay top.
Come on you reds!