Friday, 1 January 2016

Arsenal v Newcastle United Preview

Arsenal start the new year at the top of the Premier League and they have the chance to maintain or even increase that lead against Newcastle. Despite the 4-0 defeat at Southampton last week they have won four of their last five league games to lead Leicester on goal difference and City by three points. The 2-0 win over Bournemouth on Monday was the result which put them on top of the table and more of the same would do very nicely.

The team started slowly in that game, but they grew into it and again showed their new found ability to put bad results behind them very quickly. Bournemouth were on a very good run before that game which included victories over both Chelsea and United. The trouble they caused Bournemouth from corners was very impressive as was the performance of Mesut Ozil.

I have never thought he was anything other than the best player in his position in the league and maybe even the world too. He has had his ups and downs at Arsenal as well as a long list of critics, but he is the outstanding player in the league so far this season for me and looks set to break the record for the most assists in a season. That record is currently held by Thierry Henry on 20 assists and Ozil needs 5 assists in the remaining 19 games to beat him. It would take a very brave man to bet against him doing so considering how he has played this season.

At the moment it just seems to be a matter of how many of the chances Ozil makes that Arsenal can put away to determine the outcomes of their games. In the first half against Bournemouth he created all six of the chances which the team created, but the other players only managed to put one of them away. He duly stepped up in the second half to score the second goal himself just to make sure of the result.

Arsenal haven't lost at home since the opening game of the season when West Ham beat them 2-0. They have taken 19 points from their last seven games at home with 14 goals scored and only four conceded. 

By contrast to that Newcastle have lost six of their nine away games and are the lowest scorers away from home in the league. They did come from behind to win away to Spurs a few weeks ago though and their defensive record has improved in recent weeks with only four goals conceded in their last five games. They do have players who can carry a threat, but it's nowhere near the threat carried by Arsenal.

In team news the only player to return to the squad will probably be Mathieu Flamini as he seems to have recovered from the knock which kept him out of the Bournemouth game. With three games in eight days I would imagine there will again be some changes to the team from that game. The team which started against Southampton was seen by Arsene Wenger as his current best option available to him, but the players who came in on Monday did well.

Gabriel Paulista did very well in that game and should surely keep his place, but the question is who will miss out if he does. Per Mertesacker has played the last two games while Laurent Koscielny sat out Monday so maybe it's time for Mertesacker to get a well earned rest. I still think the Koscielny and Gabriel combination is the way forward and it's just a matter of time before Gabriel earns a permanent position in the team.

If Flamini does return to the starting 11 then Calum Chambers would be the man to miss out. Chambers did well after a slightly shaky start, but I think Flamini's experience should see him get the nod. The rumours of the imminent arrival of Mohamed Elneny still abound and he could find himself called into service very soon if he does arrive with the amount of midfield injuries at the moment.

I think Nacho Monreal will return after sitting out the Bournemouth game, but I think it's probably a fifty/fifty call between Joel Campbell and Akex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the last place in the team. I can't see the likes of Ozil, Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott sitting on the bench as their creativity and end product cannot be done without at the moment.

Alexis Sanchez won't be back in time to play, but the chances are he will be back for the FA Cup game with Sunderland next week. I'll be making the trip to London for that game and I'm hoping to see the strongest team possible despite the team having a league game four days later. That game is the first of three very tough league games in a row and the team need to go into them on the back of wins against Newcastle and Sunderland. Having Alexis back from injury for those three league games will be a huge boost and hopefully he won't suffer another setback.

Back to Newcastle and it's a game I expect Arsenal to win as long as they show up without the attitude and performance we saw against Southampton. Newcastle will try to park the bus but the ability of Ozil to break through any defence and set his team mates up could and probably will make the difference. If Arsenal can get ahead hopefully they can press home any advantage they have and finish Newcastle off. They managed to come back late against Spurs and we can't afford to let them get into a position where such a comeback might be on.

With City facing a tricky trip to Watford later in the day there's a good chance for Arsenal to put some pressure on them before they play. The next three games are very tricky ones as I said above and a six point margin over City ahead of those games would be very handy. Let's just keep our fingers crossed that they can do their part and Watford might just help them a little too.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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