After two disappointing away performances, today nothing else than victory at home over Newcastle must be accepted by the players, because this collective need to up their game over the festive period and that starts now.
We all know the troubles on the road. We know how teams have been better and we’ve generally been worse when not playing with home comforts, but we are at home, it’s a three o’clock kick off and this team has been relatively ruthless when it comes to performances in North London. Which is why I’m hoping that I get to see a reaction to the lethargy that came from our players on Wednesday night in the cold East London air.
The team news isn’t great when it comes to Ramsey who, despite Arsene’s optimism after he limped off against Southampton at the end of the game, looks like he’s done until the new year. With so many games that’s a big blow for us because he was really starting to show his value from an end product perspective.
What it does do, however, is leave the manager with a bit of selection dilemma because it means one of the midweek players is going to be asked to do more. Or perhaps a few will play over the coming weeks and we’ll have to change our approach. Ramsey does something in the team that no other does – Coquelin, Elneny, Wilshere, etc – so I think we might see more of the four at the back and an extra man in midfield. Certainly it could be a possibility today although I don’t think we’ll see Jacky Wilshere. I think Arsene is being cautious with him and I suspect what we’ll see is one of Elneny and Coquelin with Xhaka in the midfield. A game like today though needs more attacking impetus, so I’d probably be inclined to roll the dice a little. Perhaps Maitland-Niles finally gets his chance in central midfield, for example? He equipped himself well in midweek and was one of the positive points and at his tender age I don’t think fatigue will be an issue.
Despite the midfield issues however, I’d still go for a back three to start the game. Koscielny, Monreal and Mustafi – assuming he’s fit – flanked either side by Kolasinac and Bellerin. In midfield I’d take Xhaka and whilst I’d prefer Wilshere alongside him, I have a feeling we’ll see Elneny or Coquelin. Probably the latter. If that happens I think Xhaka will be asked to play with a little more licence in front of him but with his lack of mobility clear for all to see these days, it puts a lot of pressure on the front four. Xhaka can pick a pass but he’ll need to do it in a congested part of the pitch so players like Ozil and Lacazette will need to be clever with movement and find space with which to be threading eye of a needle passes. Up top it has to be Lacazette and whilst I’d rather not see Alexis I know what he can bring if he actually finds himself some form, so he’ll start too.
Newcastle are no mugs. Yes they’ve been on a pretty wretched run and yes, plenty of teams have dispatched them, but Benitez knows how to set up a team with good shape and having just seen two mid table teams basically focus on that and nothing else against us in the last week, it feels like today’s blueprint has already been set. They will sit tight, sit deep and it will be on us to move the ball quicker, stretch their players and probe. I don’t know why but this game feels like it has all of the hallmarks of a frustrating afternoon that hopefull opens up in the second half.
If that is the case then we really not need to be doing any brain-farting like we did at St Mary’s. Giving Newcastle a one goal lead will be asking for a frustrating afternoon and whilst I’m sure I’ll be frustrated if we’re behind or level at half time, there’s part of me that knows that it’ll be the second half that will be where we might be able to win the game.
I’d like to see more penetration from the fullbacks today. Both have been poor in recent weeks and haven’t been getting in behind defenders and whilst I understand that it may be in part due to the performances of our opponents in not being drawn out, these are players who are supposed to be elite, so they should be able to find a way to unpick locks.
It’s a 3pm kick off and that is a good thing. Let’s hope that Arsenal make it a better thing by continuing the good form with three points before a really tough game against Liverpool in under a week’s time.
Come on you rip roaring reds!