Sunday, 29 December 2013

Arsenal's Trip To Newcastle Previewed

Arsenal came from behind to beat West Ham 3-1 on Thursday and retake top spot in the Premier League. After yesterday's games City are two points ahead of them and they will need to win at Newcastle today to retake pole position again. Newcastle are in seventh place, but would move to three points behind Arsenal if they were to win. 

The games are coming thick and fast at the moment and there's a likelyhood of Arsene Wenger resting a few players today. Aaron Ramsey picked up an injury against West Ham and will definitely miss out and I can only imagine a few others must be feeling the effects of the heavy schedule. There is a chance Laurent Koscielny will return from injury to bolster the defence which has looked shaky in his absence.

I think Mathieu Flamini will probably start in place of Mikael Arteta in midfield and I imagine Tomas Rosicky will come in for Ramsey. Jack Wilshere will be available again after his suspension and he will almost certainly be in the starting team. There's a possibility of Lukas Podolski making his first start since August after he impressed so well as a substitute against West Ham. If he does play it will either be in a wide left role or in place of Olivier Giroud who looks like he needs a rest.

Giroud can't buy a goal at the moment and there's also the possibility of Nicklas Bendtner replacing him but I would be surprised if he did so. Bendtner has made no secret of his desire to leave the club and the club must surely be actively seeking a replacement for him when the transfer window opens in a few days. Despite his current inability to put the ball in the net Giroud is still an important member of the team and his hold up and defensive attributes can't be easily dismissed. I'm not so sure Bendtner would be able to contribute so much to the team in these areas if he was chosen.

There are other options for the boss too such as Nacho Monreal, Serge Gnabry and Carl Jenkinson and they could all get a chance depending on how others in the team have recovered from the West Ham and Chelsea games. With another game to come at home to Cardiff on Wednesday and then Spurs in the FA Cup on Saturday the fatigue levels have to be closely monitored. The last thing Arsenal need is players needlessly picking up injuries because they are asked to do too much. 

The needs of the team have to be well balanced against the needs of the players and the overall long term good of the team. With that in mind I have to wonder if Mesut Ozil will play as he has played every single game since he arrived at the club and must be feeling the effects at the moment. He has taken criticism in some quarters for his performances but it has to be remembered that he had no pre season with the other players and they rarely get any length of time to work together in training with so many games to play for club and country.

Newcastle will be no pushover and they are on a fine run themselves with seven wins in their last nine league games. During that run they have won at home to Chelsea and away to both Spurs and United while keeping clean sheets against all three of those teams. They will fancy themselves to turn Arsenal over too and it's going to be a very tough game for both teams.

I think Arsenal have the desire and the ability to win the game, but they will have to defend better than they did against West Ham. When Arsenal went behind early in the second half they threw caution to the wind and left themselves very vulnerable at the back. They were lucky not to go two goals behind before getting the goals they needed to win and they have to be better in defence against Newcastle.

In Arsenal's last three games there should have been red cards for opponents, but the officials either failed to notice very bad challenges or bottled out of issuing second yellow cards to opponents. Added to that both Chelsea and City got away with what I considered blatant penalties against Arsenal and there's a feeling of decisions going against the club at the moment. If these things are meant to balance out over a season I'd like to think Arsenal might get a call or two in their favour today for a change.

I'm trying to remember instances this season where Arsenal have avoided red cards which should have been issued and I can't think of any or where opponents should have got penalties and didn't. Maybe I'm wrong but it could just be that Arsennal will get their fair share of correct calls in the second half of the season. The wrong calls probably wouldn't have changed the result of the City game and didn't matter in the West Ham game, but they certainly had a huge influence on the draw with Chelsea. 

I'm not asking for referees to favour Arsenal, but it would be nice to see them do their jobs properly and not bottle out of big decisions which they have a clear view of. Joey O'Brien and Jon Obi Mikel should both have been sent off with the referees having perfect views of their indiscretions and Yaya Toure should have walked too although I'm not sure how much the referee saw of his dreadful challenge. It's so frustrating to know your team has suffered because the officials just aren't doing their jobs properly.

As for today's game hopefully there will be no such controversy and Arsenal can get on with the job of playing football. Santi Cazorla looked like he was coming back to his best against West Ham and I think he could have a big influence on today's game. I'm predicting a narrow win for Arsenal and for them to take over at the top of the table yet again. The festive period has been very challenging for the team and it would be great if they can win today and follow that with a win against Cardiff to finish it where they started in first position despite the setbacks.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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