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Starting All Over Again – Arsenal v Newcastle

#ARSNEW: The Arsenal globetrotters are back in action at the Emirates this weekend. No, not the Emirates, but the Emirates Stadium. We trotted to the Emirates; the ones who are United, Arab and home base of our stadium sponsor. Well, you already know what I mean. I try to marvel at how confusing football can be to non-fans. Keep it fresh.

Which is exactly what Arsenal have striven to do in the past couple of weeks. They brought in two new players to freshen up the squad, and they used the mini winter break to get some warm weather training (the wusses) and team bonding.

The latter is an important part which our (still) new head coach was keen to highlight. The players got to relax and spend some time with their families. But more importantly, they got to live with their teammates and coaches. The same applies to the backroom staff.

With the departure of the man who can’t stop blabbing about how it’s not his fault, Arteta inherited a mess that he needed to clean up without actually having the time to do so. Now he’s managed to get in around a quarter of a pre-season;  a time to connect with the players and staff. To review, reiterate, refine and work on his philosophy.

A winter break at the right time

The Euro 2020 oriented winter break came at just the right time for Arsenal. 4 draws in a row in the league isn’t exactly great form. 2 weeks after the draw with Burnley, who were tied on points with us, we now find ourselves facing a Newcastle team also on 31 points. 13 games to go in the season, so the most we can end up on, if we win every game, is 70 points.

With Chelsea 10 points ahead of us in 4th place, it seems unlikely that the Premier League will be our route back into the CL. Which is fine by me. We could earn our spot through winning the EL (cup competitions are iffy), but I’d rather we showed we were up to the task in the league before worrying about the CL. Players contracts might be an issue though, but we are where we are because of certain individuals, some still at the club.

Still, one game at a time this season, and who knows where we end up? Hopefully the break would have done us some good, especially our attack, which still hasn’t recovered from the shock to its system. I’m dying to see some good football. Hey, maybe the break helped the fans too. Of course it would also have helped the other teams.

Two struggling teams

Newcastle come to the Emirates on Sunday with their Longstaffs. They’ll be full of beans and trying to kick lumps (of coal). Ok, maybe not. I was going to say Newcastle aren’t that bad, but they are dead last in passes made. No surprise then, that they also have the least shots (tied with Crystal Palace). They pass at a 74% success rate, and tackle at 59%. In 25 matches they have created just 24 big chances, less than one per game. Despite a decent attacking lineup, on paper at least, scoring goals has been such a problem that Jonjo Shelvey is their leading scorer with 5. Former Arsenal man, Isaac Hayden, is their leading tackler.

Easy game then?

Not quite. Arsenal have their own struggles. We’ve taken only 32 shots more than Newcastle, our shooting accuracy is about the same (33%), and have created only 28 big chances. When people say Ozil is finished, I guess it is them realizing that Arsenal as a whole aren’t creating enough. I’m hoping that Arteta and the players would have found a solution to this, because let’s face it, scoring 32 goals in 25 games, with an attack led by Auba, Laca, and the creative force of Ozil is simply not good enough. Now that our defense looks a bit better, I expect that to be the next step.

While the break would have helped us relax, concentration will be key. We have 3 errors leading to a goal, while Newcastle have 8. Keep out our own errors, play to our strengths, and a team like Newcastle should make a mistake that we can capitalize on.

Team News: Shad Forsyth said every one, except Chambers, is approaching a clean bill of health. Even with Tierney, he made the excellent point that since it is a shoulder injury instead of a lower limb issue, he has been able to run and train with the ball. No contact allowed yet, but he hopes Kieran will be back really fit. Pablo Mari should be up to speed now, while Cedric was training, but maybe his issue isn’t completely resolved yet. Same with Reiss Nelson from what I gathered. Still no press conference, so we’re guessing, but I’m going to assume there are no new injuries.

Starting XI: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Mari, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Pepe, Ozil, Martinelli, Aubameyang

Subs: Martinez, Sokratis, Mustafi, AMN, Guendouzi, Ceballos, Lacazette

Now is as good a time to start Pablo Mari as any. The break should have helped him integrate and Newcastle’s passing and attacking struggles could help ease his introduction. Like I said, concentration will be key. But his passing ability and the fact that he’s left footed could help us play out from the back. Also, if he’s anything like Mertesacker, to whom he’s been compared, a defensive partnership with Luiz, himself a good passer of the ball, could help us in both defense and attack. I’m eager to see what he brings to the table.

I’m also keen to see if Arteta has plans to use AMN in midfield. He had one impressive performance there in the Wenger years, and was the bright hope touted by Gazidis/Emery. But since then he hasn’t got a chance in the middle, and there are concerns his first touch isn’t suited to it. But fixing issues like this seems to be something of an Arteta speciality. He can still fill in at full back if needed while Cedric recovers.

I’d also like to see Willock instead of Ceballos, but Dani boy has been making some very flattering remarks about the club and his time here. Maybe Arteta’s managed to convince him this is his best chance at making a good career and he’s finally ready to get is head down now that he has a coach he can believe in. His technical ability can be a plus if Newcastle are proving difficult to break down.

Prediction: 2-0 to the Arsenal.

14 Comments

  1. Thanks Shard

    Between your review and Labo’s thoughts over on PA we are well covered!

    COYG!

    Reply
  2. Thank YOU fins. No one else seems to care about Shard’s ramblings 🙂

    Reply
    • Apart from Shotta sending me constant reminders 😀

      Reply
      • Shard – This blog does not cater for the mass of stupidity that is rampant on social media. If Arsene Wenger catered for the majority he would never have been our greatest manager. He has been succeeded by one of his closest disciples, Mikel Arteta, who will get us playing again. Two weeks in Dubai and look how improved we are.

        Reply
    • As with Arsenal Column’s excellent articles, articles on the tactics and stats don’t get the comments.

      Everyone likes to talk around the football but not everyone likes to talk about the actual football.

      But your article helps me to understand why Ceballos gets in ahead of Torreira today

      Newcastle will sit back very very deep, a gamble on the counters then but Mikel has faith in Chaka and if you don’t have faith in your senior CMs then you’re in a bad place! As Emery found out…what a clown he was (fuck me was it all a nightmare?) his first choice CM ahead of Ramsey Guendouzi doesn’t even make the bench today, he’s been demoted after Arteta’s arrival to the status/level he is currently at.

      Reply
      • Do you like how Arteta modified the midfield to accommodate Ceballos as another AMF? Straight from the playbook of Arsene Wenger.

        Reply
        • I think that was always the plan. Wenger played with one midfielder staying back. This added numbers to the attack, although towards the end, we started getting caught out in transition.

          Emery ‘fixed’ this by always playing two midfielders back, which meant we were reduced to cutbacks and hoping it falls to a striker in hot form. Amazingly, it also simultaneously made our defense WORSE.

          I think when Arteta took over he realised he needed to fix the transition defense first. Even Freddie had pointed this out. Which is what we did. The opposition shot numbers are down. Now, and especially after the break, the players know where to position themselves when they lose the ball. So next step, go back to the Wenger playbook as you say.

          Reply
  3. Btw, Ramsey won a FK for Juve. Which resulted in a red card and Dybala scored from the free kick. Juve 1, Raul/Emery mafia 0

    Reply
  4. 4 fucking love. That’s what we mean by “starting all over again.” Everything about rebuilding our midfield that we discuss in this blog and podcasts with George and my flaggng the stupid scapegoating of Mesut Ozil was vindicated today. Thank you Shard for your continued optimism.

    Reply

    • @TheFalseNein
      Ceballos has helped Özil come into the game same way Santi used to.

      Just as we were discussing.

      Ceballos is basically the only 8 in the squad as Guendouzi is still too raw. And he’s been brought back in after the break, after his rehab and probably a discussion and some work on his role with a coach. Arteta is using this squad as best he can. Even the rotation of Nketiah with Lacazette worked perfectly in the end with Laca finally getting that goal.

      COYG

      Reply
    • A HT tweak according to some post match comments: Auba playing closer to Nketiah.

      Arteta will have enjoyed that opening goal.

      The defenders were caught out by the loop in the cross and Auba’s movement, athleticism and finish were ominous for opponents, if he stays free of hacks he’ll benefit from the recent spell out the team.

      Reply
  5. Arteta confirmed that Ceballos’ attitude wasn’t right earlier. But now he’s changed it and is ‘training like an animal’

    This is the same coach that said that Ozil – lazy according to some- from day 1 has been training very well. Sometimes people let themselves be carried away by agendas. Ozil is a consummate professional without being dishonest and cutthroat. To suggest he’s only about the money was always ridiculous. The problem was never Mesut, but Unai. Everyone’s happier now and it’s showing.

    Reply
  6. Shotta praises me for being optimistic, so I’m now going to focus on a slight negative. Heh.

    I’m worried about Bellerin. He really seems to have lost some of his speed. The way Saint Maximin ran past him was not pretty to watch. Had flashbacks to Montero of Swansea vs Chambers. A better player would have punished us. Bellerin isn’t the best defensively anyway. His speed aids him in recovering his position. Hopefully I’m wrong about it. In any case, we need another RB. How’s Osei-Tutu doing on loan?

    Reply
    • I don’t mind you spotting something that is a negative; in fact i welcome it. The ultra-positive is just as bad as the ultra negative. Both are far removed from reality.

      Reply

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