Happy match day gooners! You nervous about this one? I know I am. This is going to be tough going this evening, I reckon, because it’s a tough place to go, it’ll be a cold wet one up north (not even remotely an excuse though), we have injuries and we’ve just come off of the back of a pretty chastening humbling at the London Stadium.
Mikel Arteta needs a response from his team today.
We cannot have even one tiny inkling of a repeat of the effort and application levels of Wednesday night. This needs to be an Arsenal team with a fire in their belly; ready to show the world that what was seen on Wednesday was just an isolated incident that can be contained in a box marked “contaminated – do not touch” and then locked in a leaded cell buried six miles underground. We have to have an Arsenal team tonight who come out all guns blazing.
There will also be no excuses of fatigue for us either, because many of those I expect to start tonight didn’t start on Wednesday, so we need to be seeing an intensity in this Arsenal performance that puts all of our minds at ease. In terms of the team itself, that’s also a tough one to call, although I think I have an idea of what Arteta will do:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Tomiyasu
Odegaard – Rice
Saka – Nketiah – Martinelli
That’s my gut feel. Arteta obsesses over control on the ball and when we have the ball Jorginho gives us a little more control. However I wouldn’t be starting him tonight at all personally. That’s because Newcastle will come at us with intensity and they will look to capitalise with running power in our midfield, just like Chelsea did and just like West Ham did against admittedly a rotated Arsenal starting XI this past week. But Jorginho was in that team, so perhaps Arteta is going to throw a curveball in his line up that even I’m not expecting.
Because if he really wants to mix it up, I’d think about this as a starting line up:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Tomiyasu
Odegaard – Zinchenko
Saka – Havertz – Martinelli
Rice at the base gives us running power, protection on the back four and a combative number six. Odegaard will be his usual effervescent self and he was apparently looking back to his best for his cameo on Wednesday night (I’d left the ground just after he came on so I can’t exactly comment), which is timely because with the injuries we have at the moment, we need him to shine like he did last season at St James’ Park. He scored nice and early that day and boy, what I would give for him to do the same tonight, that’s for sure.
Then, partnering him in the left eight, let’s see something Arteta has always seemed reluctant to do: let’s have Zinchenko in midfield. We all know his flaws as a left back, I suspect we all know that he’s probably going to play Tomiyasu at left back given Zinchenko played in midweek, but wouldn’t it just surprise everyone (including Newcastle) if we drop Zinny in to that eight role to provide both cover in defensive actions, control when in possession, plus give him the opportunity to make his mark more further up the pitch knowing he has protection behind him in the shape of Tomiyasu. The one question mark I’d have is if Tomiyasu and Zinchenko take up similar spaces on the field, but you’d almost have to programme Zinchenko to be thinking like he’s playing in the yellow and blue of Ukraine rather than the red and white of The Arsenal, because that’s where he’s had more minutes in that advanced midfield role.
Then up top I’d be going for Havertz. He is bigger, he will pose more of an aerial threat and target centrally than Eddie, plus given that we all now know the stat about how Eddie hasn’t scored in 18 Premier League games away from home, it kind of makes me think that at least trying Havertz up top is something different than what we’ve seen so far. Must be worth a go, right? And besides, Havertz in left eight has looked pretty rubbish so far, whereas in that central attacking position he has at least shown some value; against City in the Community Shield, then in the game against City at The Emirates where he was a focal point in the build up for Martinelli’s goal.
So to me that feels like it makes the most sense. Will Arteta do that though? I doubt it. I suspect the first iteration in today’s blog will be more likely than the second, so the onus is most likely going to need to be on the wide forwards, Odegaard and a resolute back line to keep out the Geordies.
As for our opponents today, they too will be able to recall rested players like Pope, Trippier, Lascelles, Schar, Guimaraes, Joelinton, Wilson, so they will have a similar level of freshness in their legs. The rest of the team will likely include Dan Burn, Longstaff, Anthony Gordon and Almiron in it, which makes up a team who will be full of energy and drive and with whom we cannot take lightly.
What I would like to see tonight is that Bukayo Saka steps up and has a proper go at Dan Burn. He’s a big, strong, centre half playing in at left back. Saka should be able to have a go at him and I remember thinking that at the Emirates last season, but for some reason he never seemed to want to have a run at the big black and white lump. Hopefully today can be different and we can see him find pockets of space and time, but what Newcastle did do well against us in the timewasting game at the Emirates, was to double up on both Saka and Martinelli. On that day it was Joelinton, Willock and Guimaraes who all rotated to support Burn on one side and Trippier on the other and you have to think that Eddie Howe will demand that today. I just hope Saka gets enough support and can wriggle himself out of tight spots for us.
I have a real worry that the undefeated run comes to an end today. I really hope not, because in this league the margin for error is basically zero because of City, but I just have that not very nice feeling.
Right, that’s me done for the day. I’ll catch you wonderful people for a debrief tomorrow morning. Have a good’un and let’s cross everything for three points tonight.