A week or two ago many would have described tonight’s fixture away at Newcastle as an easy fixture. Newcastle were leaking goals left right and centre; Arsenal on the other hand were scoring goals a plenty matched with a watertight defence. This match however will be far from easy, for a few reasons. Firstly it is Sam Allardyce; whatever we may think of the guy – not good things in my case – he did know how to ruffle our feathers time and time again in previous years. If there was one man that had the ‘formula’ to beating Arsenal it was him. His job is on the line and he will be determined to re-kindle the tactics that he used so well against Wenger’s sides in the past.
Next: when was the last time we beat Newcastle comfortably at St. James Park? Last year we drew 0-0 there, the year before we lost 1-0, the year before that we scraped a 1-0 victory. Do you see the pattern here? Newcastle have a history of frustrating us and we have not won with a comfortable margin since the night Dennis Bergkamp scored his wonder goal back in the 2001/02 season. Sol Campbell added to the Dutchman’s fantastic solo goal and we cruised to victory. That was a long time ago and since then we have struggled.
Our injury list will also play a part this evening; it really is mounting. Add to the list of Van Persie, Diaby and Cesc; Hleb and Flamini and I worry about the creativity we will get tonight. When Hleb went off on Saturday against Villa, all our creative spark seemed to be lost. We failed to create anything after that with a solitary one shot at goal all half. Fabregas and Hleb really are our main playmakers and I worry with both of them out. In midfield Eboue had a good game but his form is always so erratic we cannot rely on him to produce an awful lot game after game. The solitary creative player in midfield is really Tomas Rosicky but he has not been in the best of form. He is key to us this evening.
The team Wenger puts out is largely decided for him. The back 5 will not change after they defended so brilliantly against the Villa onslaught. They really showed the added fight and grit to our game this season and our full backs will need to get forward like they did on the weekend. Moving into midfield; I feel Eboue and Rosicky will take their places again on the wings and will be the key from turning defence into attack. The interesting question however is what Wenger will do in central midfield. I feel he will go with Diarra who had a good game in the centre on Saturday, alongside Glberto who will replace the injured Flamini. Diarra was good at winning the ball strongly and keeping it simple. Gilberto will be there to link defence to midfield and mop up anything on the counter. He could go with Denilson but I feel he will opt for the more solid two in the middle.
If it was me – I know it’s not!! – I would play Diarra in there with Rosicky. We need our midfield to create chances and if given a central role I feel we could see the best of Rosicky. With the Frenchman holding for the Czech we could really see something good in the centre of the park. That would leave space for Walcott to fill in on the left. He really has blown hot and cold this year but his pace could give Newcastle’s makeshift back four a real tough time. He needs games to develop and this game could really test his character, and build it. As I said though, I doubt this will happen.
I think Eduardo was left out of the squad against Villa as Wenger planned for him to start tonight. Newcastle have looked shaky at the back and could be undone by someone who is a natural finisher. Eduardo has shown at times he is this type of player and playing off Adebayor I can see him getting lots of chances. Adebayor will lead the line and after his performance on Saturday Newcastle will be wary. He will be marked tightly which leaves space for runners off him to exploit. We must not get Ade isolated as when this has happened at times this season we have not looked so potent. Nicklas Bendtner or Theo Walcott may be selected as the other striker in place of Eduardo but there are reasons why this is doubtful:
Theo has not been in the best of form and does not look like a striker with plenty of goals in him, yet! Many think Bendtner and Adebayor are too similar to play together. In some ways this is true but only in certain aspects are they the same. Bendtner is a good finisher and Adebayor is far more hardworking. It is a partnership I would like to see as I think they could compliment each other well against what will be a rugged defence tonight. Wenger though may not think this way.
This is the team I think will play with my team in brackets (my record on Football Manager suggests trust Mr Wenger)
If this is the team Wenger opts for it will almost be a 4-2-2-2 formation with the two defensive midfielders sitting back while the wide players push on. It is similar to the way Brazil play and with this game likely to be a tight one Wenger will not want to concede. With the full backs pushing on, Diarra and Gilberto will be there to protect the two centre backs. This game could be decided by a solitary goal, whatever Wenger chooses it must be spot on.