Saturday, 29 August 2015

Arsenal's Trip To Newcastle Previewed

It has been far from a good start to the season for Arsenal with only four points and two goals from their first three games. One of those goals was an own goal too and no other team has scored less goals than Arsenal so far. Their real problems have been at home where they have continued on from where last season finished with a goal drought.

They did beat West Brom 4-1 at home towards the end of last season, but they are their only goals in their last six home games. The team have made plenty of chances in those games, but a failure to take those chances has led to even more calls for a striker to be bought before the transfer window closes. Of course it's not only strikers who score goals, but they are the ones expected to do so on a regular basis.

With City on fire already it's crucial for Arsenal to try to keep pace with them and they just cannot afford to keep dropping points at home in particular. Arsenal had a slow start to last season and were already out of the title race before they could find any real form. If they can't put a strong run together now they run the risk of this season going exactly the way of last season.

This time a year ago it was Mesut Ozil who was being asked to perform so soon after playing in the World Cup and this season Alexis Sanchez finds himself in the same boat. He came on as a sub in the opening game against West Ham with less than a week of pre season training under his belt and he has being playing catch up ever since. He is Arsenal's most important player, but it almost defeats the purpose to have him playing without a proper pre season and we can only hope he isn't adversely affected by it.

Before the season started I thought the Arsenal squad looked almost strong enough to challenge on all fronts, but I'm less inclined to believe it with every game. There are a few injuries of course as usual with Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky all out and the attacking options on the bench are very limited as a result. Arsenal brought both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain-Chamberlain on in the draw against Liverpool on Monday night, but they were the only attacking options available from the bench.

Those options won't change for the trip to Newcastle and it's just a matter of whether Arsene Wenger decides to change the team around. The case for Walcott to start ahead of Olivier Giroud can easily be made, but they are very different players and it really depends on how Newcastle approach the game. If Newcastle are going to come at Arsenal and leave space behind their defence then Walcott is the obvious choice, but otherwise Giroud is more likely to lead the line.

The boss can't predict how Newcastle will approach the game though and even if he could he will send his team out to play how he wants them to play. I don't see too many changes from Monday night and the second half performance against Liverpool was certainly a lot better than the first half. If they're going to win they have to perform for the whole 90 minutes though and they cannot afford to play for only half of the game.

The only doubts besides the injured players I mentioned are the two players who missed out late on last week with both Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker still doubtful. Gabriel Paulista looked the part in that game and Calum Chambers improved after the break when Arsenal got a hold on the game. He struggled when Arsenal were under pressure in the first half though and he still has a lot to learn as a central defender.

If Koscielny and Mertesacker are not passed fit to play then I wouldn't be surprised to see Kieran Gibbs come in at left back with Nacho Monreal switching to the centre of defence in place of Chambers. It might be a bit tough on Chambers, but the team comes first and he needs to work on his game some more before he can properly challenge for a place. 

Chamberlain must be wondering what he has to do to get a place in the team and just like last season he seems to be the first player to be dropped when changes need to be made. It can't be easy for him to see Aaron Ramsey playing in his wide right role when he would probably be the best option in that position. He is prone to losing the ball in dangerous positions at times, but every single Arsenal player suffered from that problem in the first half against Liverpool.

I'm not knocking Ramsey as he was one of the better players last week, but the boss needs to find a different role for him if he is going to play him. If that means there has to be some rotation with Santi Cazorla or Mesut Ozil missing out then so be it, as I think the team needs the width and pace offered by Chamberlain. At the moment it seems the boss is picking the players he wants to play and then slotting them into positions rather than choosing a formation and then the best players to suit that formation.

Maybe Wakcott could come in on the left with Alexis central and Chamberlain on the right or Alexis could even be rested to the bench. If Ramsey is to be accommodated then Cazorla is the most likely to drop to the bench or he could push forward with Ozil sitting it out. For me they are all options which must be considered to try to change things and make Arsenal less predictable for their opponents.

I don't think there will be too many changes though and I can only hope the players can put in a 90 minute performance this week. With a dreaded international break coming up a win is essential and the players must understand the importance of the three points. Things will look a lot better going into that break if the team are on seven points and they can come back ready to push on and get their Champions League campaign going too. 

The team were able to play a much more open game away to Palace a few weeks ago and hopefully they will find Newcastle as easy to attack. Newcastle have two points from their three games and will be looking for their first win of the season and hopefully they can be drawn out of their shell. If they attack Arsenal I think Arsenal will pick them off, but if they sit back and defend it could be a long hard afternoon for Arsenal.  Either way the players and the boss have to find a way to get the three points and make sure Arsenal stay in touch with the teams above them.

As usual this season my fantasy league is up and running again and it's open to all comers with a €50 prize (out of my pocket) to the winner. You can join up by using the league code 48497-14043 after you have set your team up here and good luck to all who play. There were over 1,000 teams in my league last season and there's already more than that signed up for this season.

I'm also running my Predictions League again this season and it's very enjoyable even if there's no cash prize for the winner. The code for my league is FD757-ARR after you have signed up here and of course both games are completely free to play. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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