Morning folks and welcome to Saturday, with an early kick off and an opportunity for Arsenal to try to banish the bad taste of last weekend’s battering at the hands of Liverpool.
Newcastle are bottom of the league, haven’t won a game yet, don’t have a great record against us at the Emirates and last weekend leaked goals against Brentford like you wouldn’t believe. So this is only pointin in one direction today: a victory for the magpies after they score with their only attempt on target against us.
I know that sounds flippant, but you just know it could be one of those days, right? When the stats, form and everything goes in Arsenal’s favour, we usually find a way to brain fart ourselves, so for me today isn’t about thinking how much we are going to smash Newcastle by, but simply that we have to win the game. Honestly I’d take a 1-0 win today.
It’s probably also a more likely result. Newcastle aren’t in form and so I suspect they will try to sit deep and soak up pressure and we aren’t a team who finds it easy to break down teams. Norwich, Burnley, Watford – all teams down towards the bottom of the league, all teams who sat in compact shape and challenged us to break them down and all teams in which the game was a narrow margin. Yes Newcastle are shipping goals (27 conceded in 12 games means an average of more than two goals a game conceded), yes they look weak at the back, but this is the sort of game that they will look to be really compact and difficult to break down, then rely on the absolute X-factor that is Saint Maximin, who I think is a superb player and such a joy to watch; when he’s not up against your team that week, that is.
He and Wilson are their rapid danger men and they will be the ones that we will need to make sure we don’t let in behind. So it will be incumbent on our back four to ensure that they are not given space, time or opportunity. The good news is that defensively we have looked a lot better this season. Whilst we have been a low scoring team, we have also been a team capable of clean sheets and have them against Norwich, Burnley, Watford, Leicester, Brighton, as well as in the EFL cup against West Brom, Leeds and AFC Wimbledon. So whilst the lack of chance creation and scoring is a very real concern, you would hope that we can have a little more faith that in defence we have the team building up its confidence that we could potentially shut Newcastle out.
That doesn’t mean it’ll happen though and last weekend’s game against Liverpool show we still have those mistakes in us, but my hope is that today we start from a strong base in the defence and use that as the confidence to inspire us in midfield and attack.
To me that means we go for Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel and Tierney. Nuno Tavares has been great but you need to show that there is competition in this team and that’s why I’d be opting for Tierney. Plus you want to get those minutes in the Scot’s legs before the massive game on Thursday against United. That’s out strongest back five and that’s what I’d be picking. But in midfield is where it gets interesting. I’ve been flip-flopping on that this week, because one minute I’m thinking it should be Ainsley coming in for Sambi, but then I’m thinking that Sambi needs to get back on the horse. Either is very plausible, but I think i’m edging towards seeing if Ainsley can put in another good display alongside Partey. If he does play and play well, then he can keep his place, but if he indeed plays well then maybe he can think about a run of games and maybe his career isn’t as over at Arsenal long-term as we think?
In front of that two I think we have to stick with ESR and Saka as the wide players, but I’d give Odegaard an outing today instead of Lacazette. With the type of team Newcastle are and with the way we’re expecting them to set up, I feel like it needs a player better at linking play and I think Odegaard has better vision than Lacazette and will be able to feed Auba more in the places we want him: in the box. I also think that Odegaard has been out of the team a fair bit and whilst he did have a couple of average performances which led him to not starting, I think giving him an opportunity today might just light the fire under him and see the kind of drive and performance we need after the flatness that last week left us at Liverpool.
MY hope is that, like Liverpool last week, Arsenal are pretty grumpy about what happened last weekend and want to take that out on Liverpool. That alone won’t enable us to pick up the three points, but it might drive that extra 10% of desire in the players and at elite level that makes the difference often. We need to see it from the kick off today; show the home crowd that there is fire in the bellies and a real laser focus to put the unpleasantness of last weekend to bed.
Up the Arsenal.