Writer: Galway Gooner
Date:Saturday December 28 2013
It`s the Barcodes away on Sunday and we play a team very much on the up after a pretty shaky start the season. They`ve only lost once in the last 9 league games and that run has included impressive results and performances against Chelsea, United and the mighty Spurs. Currently they sit in 6th place with 33 points put into perspective they are only 3 points off 4th in the league just behind Liverpool and while I can`t see them genuinely challenging for the title they could, in this pretty crazy season, have a go at the Champions League spot. Realisticly I think even the most die-hard Gerodies would take a 6th place finish if it was offered now.
Their last 3 league fixtures have yielded 7 points with a whopping 9 goals for and only 2 against. As always with Newcastle going forward they have the players to hurt you. However I`ve seen a bit of them over the past few games and while results have been good the performances have been mixed at best. Southampton should have won quite easily in their 1-1 draw in Newcastle and they totally dominated the second half. Newcastle were impressive against Palace recording a solid 3-0 win but despite their 5-1 mauling of Stoke at the weekend for long parts of the game, even when Stoke only had 9 men Newcastle didn`t really impress and for the first 35 odd minutes when Stoke had 11 on the pitch they were bar far the better team, were deservedly leading and possibly should have had more than a one goal lead. Ultimately Newcastle ran their opposition into the ground and once they took the lead it was all over. I don`t mind this too much as Stoke are a terrible football team and honestly could have finished the game with 8 or even 7 players the way they were tackling.
Tactics wise they line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with 2 of their midfield playing deep and shielding the back four. The back four is decent with for me their real strength coming at left and right back where both Debuchy and Santon have been very impressive all season. They both like to get forward, a lot, and our own guys (Sagna and Gibbs) will have a tough game ahead of them. However, the fact that they like to attack so much, particularly at home, does leave gaps at the back. The middle of the park will be tight but the pace of Theo or Poldi on either wing for us will present will some opportunities. Our midfield three will have to be alert to the open space behind their full backs. The central defensive positions are held by Willliamson and Colottini. Both are good players, strong in the air but neither are blessed with explosive pace and Colottini this season hasn`t looked as solid as he has in the past. Both defenders like a battle so I`m expected Giroud, if he starts, to have a real physical game in this one. Good news for us is if we are smart there are plenty of free kicks to be won off these two. All four of their back line is six foot or over so headers will be hard to come by. In goal Krul has had a good season and while he is an excellent shot stopper and good on one-on-one situations his concentration can lapse and he is not quite at the top level of goal keepers in the league. I hear we were looking at him at the start of the season and it was a bit meeeehhh for me, ok keeper but not great.
The back four are well shield by two very physical players in Tiote and Sissoko. Anita played there against Stoke but I would fully expect Tiote to come back into this position having missed the last game due to suspension. These guys are very physical, will run all day and I think its fair to say adopt a no-nonsense approach when it comes to tackling. Both have racked up some yellow cards and both will get booked against us. Expect some heavy challenges on the likes of Ozil and Carzola. I`m pretty sure Jack will be targeted but he has to prove that he is capable of resisting the bait and to concentrate on his own game. I would like either of Sissoko or Tiote at Arsenal but just don`t like the two of them in the one team.
For Newcastle what this does allow is for every player further forward to really attack the opposition. They have a very decent attack minded midfield 3 with Gourffran, one time Arsenal target Cabaye and quite likely Ben Arfa (assuming he keeps his place ahead of Anita) all liking to get into the box and take shots. Gourffran has already knocked in a very impressive 7 league goals this season and Cabye a further 5. Despite only playing in half their league games to date Ben Arfa has a decent 3 goals to his name. The way these 3 like to arrive late in the box will need to be watched very closely and Wenger may be tempted to play both Flamini and Arteta to counter this. I hope he doesn`t as I think this Newcastle side is weak at the back and inviting them onto us will really open up their weak side.
Up front Remy has had an excellent season, 10 league goals so far is three more than our own Giroud but Remy has hit this number having played a game less than Giroud. Remy is a good striker, very different from Giroud and if he was on our books would be someone that would be getting game time and goals. Apparently he`s available for less than £10m which at only 26 years old to me is a steel and a player we should look at again. He`s quick around the box, decent in the air and has a great turn of pace. He would suit the way we play and as I said would be a great alternative to Giroud. I believe that there are some legal issues pending with him so whether we would even consider an offer before these are resolved is another question entirely.
They are a good side and as much as I hate to say it Pardew has done well in creating a good football side (with a solid lump of steel to it!) on a relatively small budget. The problem is that he never shuts up about how good his players are and I can imagine he will lose a few of them during the summer. But enough about them, onto us.
By the time we kick off against Newcastle I fully expect us to need to win to retake top spot from City. The last few weeks have been tough for us as the fixture computer threw up a pretty horrible series of games in a very short space of time. While we didn`t fail that test fully I think that the performances showed a first 11 that was tired and badly in need of some rotation. Thankfully with Poldi and Theo both back and both looking sharp combined with Santi gradually coming into form (his performance against West Ham was his best of the season) we have reasons to be optimistic assuming that Wenger actually makes some changes!
The injury to Rambo is a blow but it his form had dipped over the past few weeks, likely to the amount of time he`s played and the level of effort he puts in when he`s on the pitch, so maybe a few weeks off will allow him to rest a bit and then hopefully return fully charged up for the business end of the season. Jack will likely start having had a rest for the past few weeks thanks to his stupidity and I feel he has something to prove over whether he deserves a place in this team going forward or not. It`s been a frustrating season so far for Jack and he`s shown little in the way of good performances where all around him the team has improved. I`m still not sure where his best position is and maybe a big performance in the middle of the park will allow him to kick on.
I hope Wenger doesn`t play with both Art and Flamini but if he does I can see the logic to it. I also hope he gives Giroud a rest and maybe playing the more mobile Theo or Poldi up front will give Newcastle something else to think about. But for me, the change in the style of play with either of these two up front is too great a risk and I`d actually start with Bendy up there. He`s been good when he`s played for us and Giroud is so desperately in need of a rest (and maybe some competition) at this stage that I think the time is right.
Ozil, despite a dip in form is sure to start but again with Carzola looking good, Jack with a point to prove and Rocky back available I think starting our German star on the bench is a real option. Kos maybe back to fitness but I`d leave Thomas in and give Kos another bit of a break. We`ve a lot of games over the coming 6-8 weeks and we mightn`t have the chance at a later date.
I`m pretty confident going into this game and think it`s a game we can win and win well. Newcastle have had some great results and obviously a team that beats Chelsea, United and Spurs in the space of a few months deserves respect. However, I think we`ve had our wobble and are now facing a series of very winnable games.
3-1 win to the Gunners.
Date:Saturday December 28 2013
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