Ahh match day. Is there a finer thing? I think not. For it brings a sense of hope, of redemption, of anticipation and of a love that you and I know all too well. It’s Newcastle versus our beloved Arsenal and it’s a match that we quite simply must win.
After last Monday’s draw with Liverpool, we could be forgiven for accepting a point after the first half we endured, but Champions don’t drop points too frequently. Even in this, the most open of leagues in the world. If we truly are to continue the belief that this season isn’t over before it’s even spluttered in to life, today is an away day that comes with the pressure that really, three points or bust has to be the mentality of the players.
Newcastle will be better today than they’ve been against us over recent history. We have a good record at St Jame’s Park and it’s a record in which we’ve won in the last three seasons, but only by a goal margin, so we’ve never made it easy for ourselves. One of the guys that works for me is a Newcastle fan and he and I have spent a couple of days discussing how they’ll line up. He seems more confident in them going forward than defending and they look like they have some good players who will cause us trouble.
Up top will be Mitrovic who, by the sounds of it, is a bit of a unit and will put himself about, so it is incumbent on our two central defenders to marshal him well. The good news is that even if we haven’t got Big Per or Kosciencly, at least Chambers and Gabriel have had a bit of practice with having to cope with Benteke last Monday, so hopefully they’ll be less surprises from a physical presence.
We also might remember him from such performances as Anderlecht at Home: The collapsening last season, in which he bagged the final goal in the 3-3 debacle.
But behind the Serbian there will also be threats. Newcastle will most likely mirror our 4-2-3-1 formation and choose a trio of Sissoko, Wijnaldum and Thauvin, each a creative player who brings a different threat but an ability to run at defenders. This season, Newcastle look to have a bit more in their locker, certainly in the sharp end of the team.
But it’s in defence in which the Newcastle fans I have spoken to are the most worried. Despite a battling draw away at United, this is where the guy in my team thinks we might get some joy. Their back four of Janmaat, Collocini, Mbemba and Dummett have looked a little shaky at times and away to Swansea they were torn apart. So for us, if we’re going to have any joy today we’ll need to be much better in attack.
Arsène says Alexis is getting there and hopefully that means his accuracy is better, because we could really do with him finding his range, especially if Giroud has another off day. I expect Giroud to start and in his corner he has the advantage of having a good record against Newcastle, but he’ll need players in and around him to be successful. I doubt Arsène is going to mix things up much, so I expect to see the same quartet of Giroud, Alexis, Özil and Ramsey providing the attacking threat. If the Newcastle defence is fallible, then those four need to unlock them with plenty of movement and runs beyond our handsome Frenchman.
Defensively we all wait with baited breath as to whether Koscienly has made it and we all hope he does. But without him we will have a similar line up to Liverpool and a back five of Cech, Monreal, Gabriel, Chambers and Bellerin, with Santi and Coquelin sitting in front.
Newcastle will probably want the first 15 minutes to be about settling down and containing Arsenal, then trying to slowly unlock us I think. As Mike in my team said (the Geordie), “if we try to have a go at you from the start, I worry that we’ll get carved open on the counter”. I’d love a bit of 03/04 style lightning counter attacking, but we have to be more accurate with our ball retention if we’re to take advantage. We can’t afford to be misplacing passes in our defensive third like the first two home games of the season. We have to be dominant and accurate in possession.
An early kick off and an early opportunity to have an enjoyable weekend. Come on Arsenal!