Match Preview: Arsenal vs Newcastle United

newcastle

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!

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Match Review: Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal… WTF did I just witness???

Frimpong: “Hey Koscielny it’s your shout bro! Giroud’s too busy picking up chicks to buy me a beer.” Koscielny: “Nah man it’s Arshas.” Frimpong: Yeah but he’s passed out the little lightweight. And he told us Russians could hold their alcohol..” Koscielny: “Fine I’ll get it then”. Walcott: “Hey guys we’re playing in like 5 hours time”. Djourou: Relaaax man, it’s just Reading. What’s the worst that could happen?…

This is the image that springs to mind when I think about the first half performance of our team, the players out on a bender till the early hours of the morning before waking up in their own vomit, having a cold shower and getting on the bus to Reading. They simply must’ve been wasted or high because some of their mistakes would’ve shamed a pub team. There’s no reason to go into any tactics about how Reading managed to cut us apart because quite simply, they were playing against the worst performance our team has shown in a very long time. 2 goals were created by shockingly easy overlaps on the wing and a simple yet accurate cross to an unmarked striker. The 2nd goal that Koscielny scored for them was a comical mistake and then if that wasn’t enough, our goal keeper Martinez decided he wanted to win the award for the dumbest error and after Djourou decided to stand and watch the attacking player shoot rather than try to block, he proceeded to attempt to punch away one-handed a well struck shot that ended up in the net. That was seriously the silliest attempt at a save I’ve seen in years. Still he’s young and hopefully he will learn to NEVER TRY THAT AGAIN.

At 0-4 it looked like the world was coming to an end, I’ve seldom seen such sloppy play or stray passes from Arsenal and even though Walcott produced a lovely chip on half time it was hard not to feel like tearing your hair out, going on a rampage or simply drinking until you forgot. But nothing could’ve prepared us for what happpened in the 2nd half. What was said at half time by a furious Arsene Wenger is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he threatened to make Almunia the starting keeper for the rest of the season? Or maybe to lock them all in a room for 24 hours with Justin Beiber and Rebecca Black singing a duet? Or even to send the lot of them on loan to the Australian A-league for a season, or perhaps he just knows a fantastic cure for a hangover. Whatever he did worked although at first you had to wonder why no changes were made to the lineup, clearly things were going so well at this point that there was no need. But however unlikely, Arsenal started looking lively, their heads rose and the difference in their body language was obvious. Arshavin who up until then had attempted a lot of ambitious passes without success and not bothered to help defend suddenly looked like he’d drunk too much red cordial and chased and challenged everything. Our passing from defense to midfield looked crisper even if it still wasn’t at our top standard and when promising youngster Eisfeld and Olivier Giroud were introduced in place of Gnabry and Frimpong, Arsenal looked very dangerous and Reading could hardly win the ball.

Walcott in particular was looking extremely lively and after Giroud scored from an excellent headed corner he always looked likely to score his second. Reading’s defense simply couldn’t handle him and with Giroud winning everything as well as dropping deep into the midfield to link up play(the guy’s workrate is phenomenal) Reading started having doubts. Eisfeld put on an excellent performance in his debut and Arshavin became increasingly involved in every attack causing Reading many headaches before Koscielny headed in our 3rd on the 90th minute from another corner. Reading had their heads well and truly down now and I think it’s fitting that after wasting as much time as they could, the ref allowed the game to continue slightly longer for Walcott to tie things up at the death, literally willing the ball to cross the goal line before Jenkinson slammed it in to be doubly sure. An unbelievable comeback we’re not likely to see for another 10 years. A couple of Arsenal players were so excited they seemed to lose track of the score, believed they’d won and proceeded to throw their shirts to the fans, who very sportingly threw them back so they could play the extra time.

You’re gonna need those guys

In extra time Reading were pretty much broken and despite scoring a 5th goal never looked like beating us. They must have truly believed the apocalypse was on it’s way with the way things were going, a fact confirmed when Chamakh of all people drilled in our 5th from 20 yards thanks to a good leading ball from Arshavin. Walcott followed up soon after with a well earned hattrick and the game was done and dusted. Reading threw every man forward in the last desperate minutes(why wouldn’t you?) and were duly punished by Chamakh(again?) lobbing the keeper from 30 yards.

The Verdict: An amazing turnaround, one I still can’t quite believe happened. It’s like we had a nightmare while we slept that became a wet dream and we haven’t woken up since. Arsenal have always been responsible for giving us heart attacks but this time they outdid themselves. Overall Eisfeld looked really impressive on his debut and is a player I’ll be keeping my eye on. As did both Miquel and Meade. Arshavin showed glimpses of brilliance although he gave up possession a lot to do it. Walcott looked great, a hattrick and a general menace for Reading. Chamakh showed us he still has an eye for goal with 2 nice finishes and an all-round spirited performance. Lastly Giroud came on and changed the game with his presence up front.  The most alarming thing I’ll take out of this game however is that I’m an Australian and Reading’s keeper Adam Federici is our national starting keeper…

Oh and Walcott, please please, “sign da ting!” 

Manchester United next, Come On You Gunners!

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Schalke 04

Redemption. That’s what this match is. After a disgusting display vs Norwich City away, this is a chance for the team to prove their credentials against the toughest team in their Champions League group. I don’t even mind if they lose as long as they give it everything they have this time.  Schalke at the Emirates on paper looks to be an exciting game. Both teams are capable of explosive attacking displays and also horrendous defensive errors. Schalke tend to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, though against strong teams they’ve been known to play a 4-1-4-1 also. However in a game of this importance I believe Huub Stevens will go for a familiar approach and play 4-2-3-1.

Out of form or not, Arsenal have a fearsome record in the Champions League at the Emirates, having not lost a match since 2003 and Schalke will find us tough to beat regardless of our current injury woes and defensive lapses. They are a team that plays possession football and prefer to attack on the counter either through the middle via Lewis Holtby, or down their right wing through Jefferson Farfan. Due to this style they are defensively a very compact team, tough to break down in the final third. Up front they have tricky attacking players who are good at beating a defender and creating chances, while defensively they are strong at defending set pieces but do tend to give away silly fouls and  technically proficient wingers can get in behind them and cause trouble.

Unfortunately for Schalke they will have to do without the promising young attacking player Julian Draxler who is out with a broken wrist as well as two of their best defenders Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Christoph Metzelder which will make commentators breathe a sigh of relief since by the time they’ve pronounced his name he no longer has the ball. “Papadop… Papadolopous, Papado fk this”.. Schalke do however have decent players to cover these losses in particular Affelay is quite the attacking threat in Draxler’s absence. As for Arsenal’s injury woes, Wilshere and Sagna will not feature just yet and the ongoing injury saga of Diaby will keep him out of the side(till 2020). The biggest loss however is Gibbs being out injured for 1 week, meaning Santos will deputise at Left Back and as I’ve mentioned in my review of the Norwich travesty, Podolski was rendered useless by the positioning of Santos. Whether this can be ammended in this game is anyone’s guess but it’s a headache Wenger will certainly have to deal with.

Now the good news. Schalke don’t defend aggressively, preferring to stay compact. What this does is create less pressure on our midfield and in particular Cazorla who will hopefully be able to use the extra space to our advantage. As I mentioned, Schalke attack primarily through the middle so it will be critical that Arsenal control this area of the pitch more than any other. Starting Coquelin next to Arteta in the double pivot and Ramsey at Right Mid should create a more defensively robust midfield, effectively refusing the right flank as an attacking option and concentrating our strengths on the middle and left wing attack. The big conundrum is up front, Gervinho or Giroud? In this game I would favour Gervinho as his movement and dribbling is exactly what Schalke don’t like to defend against. This game will probably be decided by our midfield trio and to this end I’d like to see Cazorla playing deeper than usual and really forming a midfield triangle with Arteta and Coquelin in order to dictate play. Coquelin’s defensive instincts may also allow Arteta to surge forwards and become more involved in our offensive movements and I’m sure we’d all love to see that.

Defensively for us I’d like to see Vermaelen benched after all his recent mistakes and the fact that Koscielny is fit to start once more. Mertesacker will be key for us since he knows the German League very well and knows what to expect from Schalke. Also Schalke’s primary scoring threat Huntelaar isn’t exactly the fastest striker around and our BFG should have no problem tracking his movements around the pitch. Stopping Schalke from scoring relies on Mertesacker denying Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Koscielny or Vermaelen effectively breaking up the close passing play between Holtby and Huntelaar. Holtby in particular loves trying through balls and we will need an alert Center Back to nip in quickly and prevent these sort of balls.

Schalke 04 Danger Men: Their front 4 are a real threat, Affelay,Farfan,Holtby and Huntelaar. In particular, a lot of their attacking play flows through Holtby while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is one of the most feared strikers in the German League.

Result Prediction: After the last match vs Norwich who knows? If the boys come out and prove themselves I predict a 2-1 win for Arsenal but this could easily become 2-2.

Expected Lineup: 4-2-3-1 formation – Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Arteta, Coquelin, Podolski, Cazorla, Ramsey, Gervinho.

Conclusion: The players have a lot to prove after the atrocity at Carrow Road. Expect to see the gunners come out firing and attack with purpose. It’s a match that should be very exciting and very close. Make no mistake Schalke will not yield easily but I have faith in our boys and our home record in the Champions League to get a win in this one.

Match Preview: Norwich City vs Arsenal F.C.


So, off to Carrow Road to play out of form Norwich City after this incredibly dull interlull and I must say, I think this is the perfect team to be playing against after the break. A team that we should be able to punish and blow out the international break cobwebs against provided our team turns up on the day. So let’s look at what we can expect to see from this one.

Norwich are currently 19th on the table and have shipped more goals than any team in the league conceding 17 in just 7 games. They typically set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation similar to our own and prefer a short passing game, usually attacking down the right wing through the combination play of Jackson and Snodgrass before crossing the ball into the box often to try and create chances and smother the goalbox clearances. They are a team that is not shy about shooting and have scored a couple of decent range goals, although happily the majority of their efforts fly wide, averaging only about 25-30% of all shots on target, their lead scorer Grant Holt has only 2 so far. The best news for our defense however is that they haven’t scored any goals from set pieces which our team is particularly vulnerable to.

Offensively we can hurt them a lot. Norwich play an offside trap which quite frankly, is suicide against the pace of our team even with Theo Walcott currently injured. Despite their lack of success Norwich are a team that likes to come out and play rather than park the bus and cower in their own half (particularly when playing at home) and this will play into our hands. Our lightning fast counter-attack play should be easily able to give them a torrid time. Norwich are not a physical side and are poor at retaining possession averaging only 42% possession so far and prone to individual errors which also benefits us and I would expect our midfield to completely control the game and dictate play through Arteta and Cazorla. So far this season they have been largely hurt by attacks down the wings so expect to see our potent left wing attack up to it’s usual tricks, the downside of this being that Kieran Gibbs will most likely not feature due to the injury sustained against the brutes of West Ham United.

Formation-wise expect to see Arsenal in their shiny new 4-4-1-1 setup with most of the usual suspects in place. As I mentioned Gibbs is doubtful for this encounter so expect to see Santos at Left Back provided he’s not booked for speeding on the way to the stadium(take the bus mate).  Let us hope he can provide the attacking sting that Gibbs has given us recently. Koscielny like-wise may be recovering from the small knock he took while on international duty and coupled with his dip in form in his last two matches, he’s unlikely to feature in this one. With Szczesny still injured Mannone will continue as first choice Keeper and with Diaby still out the third midfield position is up for grabs. Norwich are rather poor at preventing shots from range so I’d like to see the combination of Arteta, Cazorla and either Ramsey or Chamberlain (2 players not afraid to shoot) to give us an extra scoring option if the opponent is proving stubborn, however Wenger may choose to put his faith in Coquelin instead. Also, owing to Giroud’s excellent efforts for France (sticking it to Spain) and the fact that Norwich are weak at winning aerial duels I’d like to see him given the nod at Centre Forward to muscle up on their defence and dominate the opposition’s goalbox. Gervinho has been excellent in the Center Forward role but with Walcott not on the subs bench I’d like to see him start at Right Wing. Lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would LOVE to see Jack Wilshere given 10 minutes or so towards the end of the match if his fitness is up to it.

Norwich City Danger Men: Jackson, Snodgrass and Holt.

Result Prediction: Conservative because of the interlull: 1-3 Arsenal. More goals and defensive shutout if our team plays well.

Expected lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Mannone, Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Jenkinson, Podolski, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho, Cazorla, Giroud.

Conclusion: This is a game we should win and win well. I will be doing a post-match breakdown of the game after the weekend, till then let’s get behind the team. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!