So the Toon Army is coming to the Emirates! And on the back of 3 wins in a row this is another must-win to get 3 valuable points before we head into an extremely torrid list of fixtures in January where it’s reasonable to expect we will drop a few points. By contrast to our recent form, Newcastle are not currently enjoying their season and with our team well rested thanks to a screwup with the trains at Christmas and with an energy sapping 3-4 loss to Manchester United just 3 days ago for the toons, now is the perfect time to hit them hard.
Newcastle’s suprisingly poor form this season owes a lot to what I call “Arsenalitis”. This is a condition where the team lacks proper depth and suffers injuries to several key players right when they go up against tough opposition. This usually leaves the team with less offensive power and a shaky back line. In Newcastle’s case they are missing the defensive solidity of Steve Taylor, the playmaking skills of Yohan Cabaye and the star quality of Hatem Ben Arfa on the left wing. So what does this mean for Arsenal? Well let’s look at how they like to play first of all. Newcastle have been favoring playing through the middle with Arfa out injured, they like to retain possession in their own half and attack fairly quickly, using either long balls or thru balls. I think the most telling factor in this match will be whether Alan Pardew opts for playing Newcastle’s standard 4-4-2 formation or the occasionally used 4-5-1 with Cisse on the right wing. Very few teams have dared to play more than one striker against Arsenal this season and most that have learned quickly that it is a mistake. Reading changed to a 4-5-1 after half time to stem the goal flow and even Manchester United who are the undisputed kings of playing 4-4-2 in the Premier League, changed to a 4-5-1 with Rooney dropping deeper to pick up Arteta and make life hard for our midfield.
The only team thus far this season to play a 4-4-2 against us somewhat successfully was Spurs and Adebayor’s stupidity ended that problem for us pretty early on. So if Newcastle do end up playing a 4-4-2 against us I predict that they’ll realise their error fairly early and switch to a 4-5-1 to try and nullify the effectiveness of our midfield trio. This isn’t bad news for us either way as it would mean taking Cisse away from our goalbox and leaving Demba Ba as the only main threat. It’s likely that the combined skills of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla will be too much for Newcastle’s midfield without Cabaye and I would expect their reaction to be sending even more long balls than normal towards Demba Ba, which is why it is vital to have either Vermaelen or Koscielny man-marking Ba and the wings and this provides a selection headache for Wenger. With Koscielny fit and rested, does he stay with the combination of Mertesacker and Vermaelen? Or does he instead play Vermaelen and Koscielny at the back. Newcastle have enjoyed good success this season by playing thru balls for Demba Ba and although they haven’t been great at beating a well organised offside trap, it only takes one to make you pay the price. Per Mertesacker’s greatest weakness is his lack of pace and against a team utilising this tactic he may not be the best choice at the back. He was caught out last match against Wigan in this manner, which we very nearly paid the price for and with Demba Ba taking the shot we probably would pay dearly. Mertesacker is also not as good in the air as Koscielny and since Newcastle will be attacking both with the aforementioned thru balls and also long balls I don’t see him as a great choice for this encounter although Arsene Wenger does suscribe heavily to the theory of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to his defensive selections. This would be an even more dangerous selection if Newcastle choose to play a 4-4-2 and have both Cisse and Ba looking for thru balls.
Looking further forwards we can analyse where the potential for Newcastle’s destruction lies. Steve Taylor may be out but their defense are still a physical bunch and due to this I would expect Giroud to start up front, using his power and intelligent movement to break up their defense. Meanwhile on the right wing I would expect Walcott to start although this may not be our best avenue of attack, since he’ll be facing off against Davide Santon, a youngster who I regard as one of the best left backs in the league and certainly their most consistent defender. Without Ben Arfa supporting him the wing will be less dangerous to defend and if Walcott keeps a high line it’s possible he can be exposed but I think it’s far more practical to target Danny Simpson on the other wing and to this end I would hope to see both Gibbs and Podolski heavily involved in this match, particularly if they play the attack-minded Papiss Cisse as Simpson’s support in a 4-5-1 formation.
There’s no reason why we can’t also attack through the middle but I expect Newcastle to try and stifle the center since that will be their own avenue and as a result Cazorla will drift towards Podolski where the space will hopefully be. Defensively Newcastle have been poor of late and Wilshere’s bursts forward can certainly cause problems for them but the majority of play should be centered on crosses from the left wing unless Walcott decides to have “one of those days” and rip Santon apart. Overall I think both teams will score but as we tend to make less individual errors, have much fresher players and a tighter defense than Newcastle at the moment, I would expect Arsenal to emerge victorious at the final whistle. If Newcastle prove to be too fatigued to make a match of it, this is a game where Walcott’s pace in behind from the right could prove devastating. If the defense doesn’t get tight to him they will pay a hefty price.
Newcastle United Dangermen: Demba Ba and Cisse. Ba has been a big goal threat this season with 11 goals already and Cisse has the ability to turn on the skills at any time. Neither player must be underestimated or left unmarked in the box for a second.
Result Prediction: I think Arsenal’s offensive capability and lack of injuries to key players will give them the edge in this one. Both teams will probably score so I’ll say 3-1 Arsenal.
Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud
Conclusion: Newcastle are tired from battling United just 3 days earlier. The Emirates crowd have been louder of late and on the back of 3 wins in a row, they should spur our boys on well. Expect an early battle for control of the middle with occasional wing attacks from Arsenal and thru balls towards Demba Ba. Once the game’s tempo is decided, Newcastle will most likely opt for a long ball game while Arsenal concentrate the majority of their attacking through the left side of the field. Right then, let’s get behind the team and enjoy the match, Come On You Gunners!