As the saga I spoke about rumbles further on with pictures and the like coming out yesterday early evening, mercifully we have something else to focus on, which is an important game at home to Newcastle United tonight. It’s a game that if I’m completely honest with you about, I’m not exactly massively confident about.
Newcastle may have a poor record against us, they may not be in the best of form and having lost their last game to Sheffield United at Brammall Lane last week they may be low on confidence, but if there’s one thing we’ve all learned is that this Arsenal team can give hope to opponents where previously there was none. We gave Brighton their first win for about 4,000 matches in Project Restart, we gave Burnley a victor and a goal at the Emirates this year when there was little that they were offering, we allowed Sheffield United to score what I think was their first goal of the season earlier in the year when they couldn’t buy a goal, plus we’ve given victory boosts to Villa, Leicester and Wolves – none of whom had won for a fair few years at the Emirates – earlier this season.
So I’m not naive enough to feel confident that this Arsenal team are going to swat aside a low-block Newcastle Team who have already picked up a draw in normal time against us in the FA Cup a couple of weeks ago. This will be a very tough game for us. Tough because we have proven this season we simply don’t have the wherewithal to break down stubborn teams who come to sit and hit on the counter. Crystal Palace did the same to us on Thursday. They said “come on then, we’re going to rely on our pacey wide players to hit you on the break, but you have to break us down” and we simply couldn’t. I think a lot of that had to do with some poor individual performances on the night and certainly from whoever plays full back I’m hoping for better this evening. Ainsley had a shocker against Palace but perhaps that was due to the fact that the decision was made for him to play left back with a couple of hours to go I believe. On the other flank Bellerin made a number of poor passes in the final third and whilst I’ve heard a couple of people talk about his technical passing ability not being the best in the past, Thursday night was one in which I think I properly saw it for the first time.
Added to those two performances we saw David Luiz slowing the ball down to an enormously frustrating pace; it was like watching an over 60s walking football match with him sometimes during the Palace game. For both the first and the second half.
Therefore I’m hoping that Arteta has some changes in mind for this evening. If not in personnel, then certainly in the message that he transmits to the team. For example, what are the options at left back if Tierney is not fit? If it is Ainsley Maitland-Niles then perhaps it is that he needs to concentrate and focus more, that he needs to be making those forward runs and over/underlapping Aubameyang on the wing more, to try to get around what will be a deep-lying Newcastle side.
On the other side Bellerin needs to also focus more on his end product too and pick the right passes. We know he can do it because he was getting assists at the beginning of the season and so we need to see more of that. With him in the Palace game it felt to me like he wanted just that extra touch more before he picked that pass. That sometimes can cause you problems so I would be saying to trust in himself to release the ball quicker and take that split second shorter to get his delivery in.
As for Luiz, well, he is what he is. That’s why I am hoping for a return to the starting XI of Gabriel. He’s a left footer so can play on that left of the defence and that opens up better passing lanes and angles compared to Luiz who will always check back and take a few extra touches. We don’t need that. What we need is quicker movement of the football to try to pull Newcatsle out of place.
That’s why I am also torn over central midfield. I – like you I’m sure – want to see Thomas Partey, but who should his midfield partner be? Ceballos could move the ball quicker than Xhaka and so by my own desires and what I’ve just said my thoughts immediately wonder as to whether he is a better choice. But Xhaka has a better range, is in better form, plus I think gives us more security on the ball than Ceballos. So I’m edging towards a Xhaka-Partey partnership, rather than a Ceballos-Partey one.
Whatever the decision is from Arteta, the hope is that it is Partey who starts and that he can dominate a game like he did in the Man United match away from home earlier in the season. We need strength, athleticism, as well as a cutting edge. Partey will provide a lot of that, although he’s not the creative influence that we need, which means once again we have to hope that Smith-Rowe can get on the ball more. It will be difficult though because teams are realising that if you cut off the the supply to him he can be nullified. Palace sat people on him and he was quiet last Thursday and I have no doubt Newcastle will look to do the same. If that is the case we need to see more movement and rotation across the top of the team. Lacazette, Aubameyang and Saka – assuming that is the front three – need to take the responsibility there and all three need to step up if we’re to beat Newcastle.
As for our opponents, they will have Ryan Fraser out due to a suspension and they are waiting on Lascelles, Lewis and Shelvey in terms of fitness but I expect Lacelles will be fit to play. They have talked about Saint-Maximin only just starting training after seven weeks out with COVID so I suspect he will either not be in the squad or maybe make the bench to give them something from the second half.
I do wonder if, after Carroll’s performance against us in the cup and the fact that he seems to love playing against us, he might start ahead of Wilson. We know what we get with Carroll and there will be elbows a plenty to deal with, which is why it will be interesting if Gabriel starts because he’s a big lad too and so it would be an interesting match up. Wilson has a bit more about him in terms of finishing but if we can isolate him at the top of the pitch then maybe we can replicate what Sheffield United did last week. But this will be a tough game and I’m under no illusions of what we will get: a grind of a match that probably won’t be much fun to watch.
But we have to find a way to scrape some sort of result. We have to pick up another win because after tonight I think we might start to find it difficult to pick up points given our opponents.
Catch you all tomorrow for a post-mortem….I mean…post match review… 😉