Arsenal Player of the Month: September, with Culann Davies video

Duh.

Okay, so Olivier Giroud had an impressive month, and Mesut Özil did what Mesut Özil does. But there’s no keeping Aaron Ramsey down. The Welshman was irrepressible, getting five goals in six games during September, taking his current goalscoring run to eight goals in nine games. As I emphasised last month, though, it’s not just his goals, but his all-round play. He’s doing everything at such a high level that it’s impossible to overlook him for this (highly prestigious) award.

Ramsey’s most influential performances were probably those against Sunderland and Swansea in the away league games. The fact that he outshone Mesut Özil making his debut at the Stadium of Light pretty much said everything – even on a day when the German delivered a heavenly assist, the man of the match had to be Aaron Ramsey. Partly for his two goals, which were both fantastic in their own right, but also for his all-round play. Tackles, pass, dribbles – the lot.

As for his performance against Swansea, he was a bit like the team – not quite at the required level in the first half before a magnificent five minute spell in which the goals came. After that, Ramsey helped the team to control the game and grab the victory. Despite a late scare, Ramsey was part of a side which defended in a disciplined way in order to ensure three points were taken, and that’s been a feature of Arsenal’s play lately, with Ramsey key as the box-to-box midfielder.

Having said above that it’s also his all-round game that is what he’s doing so well, I should mention his goals because the ones he scored against Sunderland and Swansea were fantastic. For his first against Sunderland he took up an intelligent position, demanded the ball and connected perfectly with Carl Jenkinson’s well-weighted cross, at a time when Arsenal really needed a goal. Ramsey delivered, and killed off the game a few minutes later.

Linking up well with Özil and Giroud, Ramsey laid the ball off and made a darting run into the space that had opened up in Sunderland’s defence. He got the ball back from Giroud and, after a perfect first touch, slipped it under the Sunderland goalkeeper to make it 3-1; game over. It’s one thing that Ramsey is scoring, but another that he’s winning games. Before his recent streak, he’d score goals to round the game off – Olympiakos, Fenerbahce and Portsmouth spring to mind. Now his goals are having a massive influence on games.

The same can be said for his goal against Swansea, after he had delightfully slipped Serge Gnabry in to give Arsenal the lead, as well as being unlucky not to have a second assist when he played Özil in on goal having led a fantastic counter-attack. For Ramsey’s goal, it was another counter-attack, which kicked into gear when he flicked Özil’s pass blindly into the path of Jack Wilshere. It was a little short but Jack got there, linked up with Giroud, who played it back to Ramsey, and what was so impressive again was his composure. Ramsey took it around the flailing defender, set himself and smashed it into the roof of the net. He may have been in a great position, but with players on the line and Vorm advancing, he had to aim carefully under pressure, and did so with ease.

His goals against Stoke and Marseille were less spectacular, but both were vital. It was important that Arsenal broke Stoke down early, so as not to let them retreat into a defensive shell (although one suspects that Arsenal may be better equipped to deal with that type of defending because they now have MESUT FREAKING ÖZIL), and Ramsey again supplied the cool finishing touch. As for his goal against Marseille, the game needed killing off, and that’s exactly what the Welshman did.

So, the run continues. There seems to be little stopping Aaron Ramsey – not even being put back on the wing, where he toiled a little in previous seasons. I’d mention that excellent performance of his against Napoli, but it was in October, and to be fair, I’ll probably end up talking about it next month when he gets this award for the third time in a row. He’s just playing that well right now.

ramseypotmseptember

Resilient Arsenal rip Swansea apart with fluid five minute spell

swanseaIt’s a rarity these days that an Arsenal game compels me to write a blog post on it in the aftermath. We have so many writers in the Arsenal fanbase, which means that every man and his blog has an opinion and most of the time someone else is saying what you’re saying, but after the Swansea victory I’m not really fussed – there are a lot of things I want to talk about, and Twitter doesn’t quite cut it.

I think more or less every player deserves a paragraph after the match that we had, so I’ll start with Wojciech Szczesny. The Pole has been doubted by just about everyone for a while, but Arsene Wenger’s faith hasn’t wavered enough for Le Boss to sign a new first-choice goalkeeper. He may have dropped Szczesny in favour of Fabianski, but it seemed the kick up the butt that Wojciech needed, and he duly responded with some fantastic form. He wasn’t actually called on much against Swansea, but I thought he was reliable each time – a Nathan Dyer snapshot that he was alert to springs to mind, while every single aerial ball was his. I thought that @gunnerthoughts made a good point about Arsene’s faith in him.

I said the other day that I thought Bacary Sagna deserves more credit this year, and most agreed, but with the compromise that, despite the fact that he’s playing at full capacity right now, his 100% now compared to a few years ago isn’t quite as good. Fair enough – the Frenchman was quite sluggish in his tracking of Ben Davies for Swansea’s goal, but other than that Sagna was solid and reliable, which is exactly what I hope to see in a full-back. It’s worth remembering how badly he played at points last season and comparing it with now. A full pre-season has him looking quite a lot like his old self. Give that man a new contract.

Speaking of new contracts, Per Mertesacker has been linked with one, and based on his form this season alone, he absolutely deserves one. An impeccable reader of the game, which is how he makes up for a lack of pace – although I’d genuinely posit that he’s become quicker/more agile since signing for Arsenal – Per was more or less flawless yesterday, other than getting caught underneath a wonderful Wilfried Bony ball for the goal. 29 today and showing no signs of slowing down in the mind, let’s hope we continue to see Per proving me and others wrong for having doubts over him. Happy birthday big man.

Alongside him, Laurent Koscielny did his usual thing. There weren’t many individual moments from our defence to talk about, since we defended so well as a team – more on that later – that the defenders didn’t really have to perform any miracles to rescue us. Other than that, Koscielny was solid as usual, without making his occasional error. As you can see from Culann’s video compilation of his performance, his distribution was near-impeccable and pretty much everything he did was positive. I particularly liked how well he kept stepping in front of Bony/Michu as Swansea tried to break us down near the end. Great stuff from Koscielny.

Then we have Kieran Gibbs at left back, and, like Sagna, I think his performances this season have been typical of what a full-back should be: solid and reliable at the back, as well as offering a useful presence going forward. The latter part of his game didn’t quite feature so much against Swansea, other than a penalty appeal after linking with Özil and some nice interplay with Jack and Aaron. Still, the attacking players hardly seemed to need much help, so that’s okay. Another no-frills solid performance from a member of the much-vaunted British core.

Since I’m doing this in formation order, I’ve got a decision to make – was it a 4-2-3-1, or was it more of a 4-4-1-1? I’d say in defence it was definitely the latter, while going forward there was so much freedom of movement that there wasn’t really a structure. Given that we spent a lot of time defending, I’m going to call it a 4-4-1-1 and talk about the guy who started on the right of midfield for the third game in a row.

I was really impressed by Serge Gnabry against Stoke last weekend. I thought he slotted in with minimal fuss to the first team, and didn’t look one bit out of place, which is just so encouraging for a young player. If people were dissatisfied with his performance against Stoke because of a perceived lack of confidence, I don’t think that was an issue for anyone yesterday. He was the player to break through the monotony of the first half, making a great chance for Giroud with a superb dribble and pass, and should have been rewarded with an assist. No matter – he consoled himself by capping off a superb team move with a goal. That’s what I mean when I say he didn’t look out of place – he was on the same wave-length as the rest of the players during the move, and finished it off with the quality you’d expect from a seasoned first-teamer. He got into a great position, checked back so he’d be onside, took a composed touch and fired low past Vorm. I couldn’t have asked for any more from Serge.

Moving across the midfield to the centre, let’s talk about Aaron Ramsey a bit more. Other than a great drilled effort from range, he was pretty much on par with the rest of the team in the first half, in that he wasn’t quite at full capacity. That changed in the second half as he was instrumental in both goals – he set up Serge with an extremely intelligent pass, before capping a thrilling counter-attack with the coolness we’ve come to expect from him. He could’ve had another assist when he laid it onto Özil after the first. He is absolutely on fire right now.

Then we have Mathieu Flamini, the free transfer from Milan that was widely derided by many. The sensible Arsenal fans I know were fine with the move, although it was concerning for lots that he was the only central midfielder brought in (Mesut definitely isn’t a central midfielder). I wasn’t sure he still had it after a few years in Italy, but he seems almost as good as he was when he left. His displays aren’t as all-action – he’s more side-to-side than box-to-box, which is fine as Aaron has the latter role nailed down – but he’s just as useful. A cynical foul and booking after the first goal just summed him up – willing to do anything for the cause, and he demonstrated that with a committed, solid performance in front of the defence. His partnership with Ramsey is such that I’d struggle to break them up if I was the manager. A good headache to have with Arteta returning.

Jack Wilshere lined up on the left again, and I think he deserves a lot of credit. It’s important to recognise that he’s just getting to grips with that position, so he should be given time to overcome the initial shaky form that comes with that territory. Despite that, he played a huge role in both goals. For the first, he was part of the flowing passing that sliced Swansea apart, whereas he was integral throughout the second. Running onto Ramsey’s delightful flick, his desire and skill saw him emerge with the ball and as soon as he leapt to his feet, it was on. A brilliant give-and-go with Giroud before slipping in the Frenchman for the assist, and Arsenal were 2-0 up thanks to the finish from Ramsey. He may not have been brilliant from start to finish, but during that five minute period he had a huge influence on the game.

In front of the midfield was, of course, Mesut Özil, who showed off his skills with a cheeky gum trick in the warm-up. LOOK AT THAT CHEEKY GRIN. All in all, Mesut was a little quiet, although he was involved in both goals early on. Though he was at times peripheral, what’s important is that we didn’t need him to step up, so it was more a case of him stepping aside to let others do the business, and when he did get on the ball, he was excellent. He’ll need time to hit his stride as he gels with the team, and once he does we can expect him to dominate games. Until then, we can enjoy the flashes of brilliance which are definitely a sign of things to come.

Up front, Olivier Giroud toiled in the first half, not getting much joy in any area of his game before wasting a great chance. The key difference in Arsenal in the first and second halves was that we countered as a unit more effectively, and we got players close to Giroud. We were able to create triangles in the second period and that’s how we opened Swansea up, and Giroud deserves a lot of credit for being the attacking pivot, having a hand in both goals. He doesn’t look out of place in a fluid Arsenal side so far this season. Let’s hope he, like the team, continues to play at this higher level.

Focusing on each individual player has, I hope, highlighted that everybody is playing at a high level, but that’s not the point I was hoping to make when I began writing this post. As you can infer from the title, I thought we were solid for just about the full 90 minutes – I’m not sure if we can call Davies’ goal a lapse, given how well-worked it was – but hit our stride in the five minutes between 58 and 63. That’s when our goals came, and also when Mesut spurned a chance to get off the mark for us, and I think it really highlighted our quality.

Excitingly, though I shall try not to get carried away, it reminded me of the Invincibles. Solid and resilient throughout the game, but flicked the switch going forward for a brief period and blew away the opposition. The way we dissected Swansea was magnificent to watch in that time-slot, with the football quite breath-taking. That’s the fluidity that comes with continuity and having a core of quality players remain together for a good period of time. It’s what we lacked in the previous couple of seasons, which explains why our football was often so dull (not that the onlookers seemed to notice).

I think everyone deserves credit for their performances but Arsene also deserves credit for building this team – a team he always maintained faith in, especially a few choice individuals. It’s ridiculous how many important players Arsene has seen taken from other teams in stronger positions than us, and he responded the only way he knew how: by building a new team, and this time he’s not only been able to keep the team together but to add to it with Germany’s best player.

Now we’re in the position of power. Top of the table, on a fantastic winning streak, playing great football, with arguably the league’s most talented player yet to fully gel with his team-mates. Not to mention the absentees – Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would all add massive strength in depth to this side, which is a ridiculous thing to say for players of their quality. People talked about our bench yesterday but given our injuries, a bench of Fabianski, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Ryo and Bendtner is still quite strong.

It’s amazing how things change in football. Sitting slumped in my seat as thousands around me jeered the team and the manager off against Aston Villa was one of the lowest points of my time supporting Arsenal, and now, just over a month later, I’m more satisfied with the team than I have been in years, genuinely. The key now is to kick on and try to keep our lead at the top. Extending it would be even better. We’ll need some luck with injuries in certain positions. That was always clear. But with that luck, we can go places. Up the Arsenal.

Arsenal Player of the Month: August, with Culann Davies video

It’s a common technique in journalism to not put the name of the player focused on in the title in order to pique the curiosity of would-be readers – for example: “German playmaker linked with Arsenal”, but I’m not so sure that technique is going to work in this case. Although Olivier Giroud has had a good month, and Laurent Koscielny remained his reliable self, there was only one candidate for August’s Player of the Month. In fact, Culann and I didn’t even need to discuss the player that we were going to cover. It was always going to be Aaron Ramsey.

Continuing from where he left off last season, the Welsh midfielder has used the confidence that he gained from a strong end to the last campaign to go from strength-to-strength. His all-action performances have been a highlight of Arsenal’s opening four games, and he seems to be adding goals to his game – three goals over two legs against Fenerbahce were welcome additions to his highlights video.

His goals were of course great to see, and his involvement in goals beyond that also – a lucky assist for Olivier Giroud against Fulham and a pre-pre-assist (is that a thing?) for Giroud’s winner against Tottenham followed a magnificent piece of play which resulted in him slipping Theo Walcott in behind Fenerbahce’s defence, who crossed for Kieran Gibbs to convert – but, for me, it was his all-round play that was most heartening.

Obviously it’s a good thing that he’s added goals (and mainly composure) to his game, and is having more of an influence further forward, but what makes Ramsey such a good player is that he’s good at almost everything. He’s an excellent tackler – so far he’s won 92% of his duels, the best in the league – a great passer, both short and long, strong, intelligent, good at dribbling and fantastic control.

I would say that at the moment, Ilkay Gundogan and Cesc Fabregas are the two most complete midfielders in the world – both can be targets for Ramsey, if he continues to improve his all-round game. All of his games this month have demonstrated how complete he is as a player, and it’s impossible to pick one moment which sums him up – his tackling, passing and dribbling, to name just three of his impressive qualities, are all equally important to his game. Ramsey has picked up the season where he left off last, and long may it continue.

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Arsenal 2012/13 season reviewed

seasonreview

This article first appeared on Sabotage Times.

The ‘I f*cking love this game’ highlight of the season? Surprisingly, many to choose from here. The 7-3 against Newcastle was mental, the 3-1 comeback against Norwich a huge moment in our season and the 5-2 against Tottenham enjoyable. However, the utterly insane 7-5 Capital One Cup victory over Reading takes it by a nose – 4-0 down, back to 5-4, pegged back to 5-5 and two goals in added time of extra time to win it. Crazy. If anyone had money on 7-5, you’d have to imagine the people at bwinbetting.com were pulling their hair out.

The season ticket shredding moment? Less surprisingly, many to choose from again. A disappointing loss to Norwich is right up there, however you’d probably have to say the 2-1 away loss to Tottenham, despite the way in which it turned our season around in a positive way. Absolutely shocking defending through-out.

Moment that just about summed it all up? Probably the 3-3 home draw with Fulham – 2-0 up, inexplicably 3-2 down, instantly back to 3-3 then missing a last-minute penalty. Thankfully it’s not quite an accurate metaphor for the season, given that we squeezed over the line at the final hurdle.

Got the right manager? You certainly can’t convince me that we haven’t, although plenty have tried and likely will continue to. The fan-base is still somewhat divided over Wenger – some say he deserves credit for making a big change in dropping Szczesny and Vermaelen and Fabianski and Koscielny, others say he was simply correcting his original mistake. It’s time for him to be vindicated next season.

Player of the season? Per Mertesacker has been solid all season, with Laurent Koscielny returning alongside him in the second half of the season to shore up the defence superbly. Mikel Arteta has enjoyed a similar return to form after the revival of Aaron Ramsey, while Theo Walcott has had his best return in front of goal. However, in his debut season Santi Cazorla has to take it – the incredibly robust Spaniard barely missed any games, and only suffered slightly consistency-wise, winning over Arsenal fans with some magical performances and other-worldly touches.

What would you change next term if you were the gaffer? Formation is good, seems to have gotten the defence all singing the same tune of late – Steve Bould’s done a good job there, despite the rumours that Wenger refused to let him work with the defence because he was jealous. The main thing is getting someone to cover for Arteta – pretty much the only trust-worthy midfielder who’s got defensive nous, although Ramsey covered for him very well when needed.

Which player would you like to sign? Olivier Giroud has lead the line quite well in his debut season, while Theo Walcott has shown promise up-front (despite still getting into those positions from out wide), with Lukas Podolski slightly less successful in the middle. A proper good striker is very high on most Arsenal fans’ lists, and Stevan Jovetic has been linked. Tall, strong, good at holding up the ball, great at link-up play, skilful, mobile, a good finisher – Fiorentina missing out on the Champions League has given some fans hope that we can prise the Montenegrin away from them.

Biggest own-goal? Very nearly Wojciech Szczesny’s way-too-early gloating of sorts that Tottenham ‘lack quality’, although we (and he) came good in the end, so that’s alright. Bacary Sagna’s catalogue of errors to give Robin van Persie a penalty at the Emirates was awful, but playing a more-or-less full-strength team at Bradford and still losing was pretty embarrassing so let’s go with that.

Biggest t*sser? I’d love to pick from the series of Tottenham staff who insisted it’d be their year (yet again) – Bale, Adebayor, Villas-Boas etc – as well as Steffen Freund, whose final day aggravations behind the manager were utterly hilarious. Piers Morgan is also a contender, as would anyone who made Alan Sugar’s opinions on Arsenal seem sensible. A word, too, for Stewart Robson, who, having been removed from his analyst duties, did his best to destabilise the club with myths about Wenger and Bould not being on speaking terms. Let’s just say everyone’s a t*sser and be done with it.

Best chant? Not many to choose from to be honest, although if I’d been to more away games I could list some of the more imaginative ones. I’ll keep it plain and simple and go with Per Mertesacker’s: “We’ve got a big f*cking German, big f*cking German”, which went down a treat with big Per.

Player’s tweet of the season? Nothing hilarious, just a perfect summary of everything from Mikel Arteta, accompanied by a charming mis-spelling of ‘title’: “We kept great TOGETHERNESS between Players,Staff,Directors & Supporters and we got rewarded! Proud 2 play 4 Arsenal!Let’s win a tittle now!”

Best laugh you had all season? All of my gold doubloons go to the man who sent a text to someone at White Hart Lane, mischievously misinforming them that Newcastle had drawn level against us. Wild celebrations ensued at the Lane. Even Michael Dawson was on his knees celebrating when Bale scored – he thought they’d done it. Oh Tottenham. The gift that never stops giving.

How do you plan to get through the summer without football? Tennis. I need to prepare myself for goal line technology.

Scouting report: Adam Maher vs Feyenoord

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Holland have a history of producing technically proficient players – after all, total football emanated from the Netherlands. It’s no surprise, then, that three of the most exciting midfielders in Europe – Jordy Clasie, Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher – all play in the Eredivisie and represent the Oranje.

Today saw the latter take on the former, with Maher’s AZ Alkmaar up against Feyenoord, for whom Clasie has been so impressive. My focus was on Maher, AZ’s number 8, and the 19-year-old put in a decent performance as his side went down 3-1, with Clasie grabbing one of the home team’s three goals.

In an entertaining game, AZ started the better side, with Maher at the centre of a lot of impressive moves. He constantly showed a good first touch, including when under pressure, showing also that he can supply a good pass when being pressed, which was his first involvement in the game. His style is elegant, happy to receive the ball and either play it instantly or go on a mazy run – adept with either foot.

This ambidextrosity was demonstrated most obviously just before half-time, with Maher’s biggest involvement. The youngster picked the ball up roughly 35 yards, and drove at the opposition. The player confronting him backed off, clearly frightened by Maher’s close control, meaning he was able to fire in a left-footed shot low to the corner, with the goalkeeper pushing it around the post for a corner.

Other than that, Maher was quiet but impressive when he got on the ball. Positionally he was the most advanced of three midfielders, getting forward to support Jozy Altidore, who had a bit of a battle with Joris Mathijsen throughout. In fact, Maher was the one acting as peacemaker between the two when a scuffle broke out.

Some of the key facets of Maher’s performance were that he was often pressing the defensive midfielders/defenders of Feyenoord when they were on the ball, roaming around looking for space and the ball, and showing good awareness, often looking around him to see how best to position himself when Feyenoord had the ball.

This served him well around the 15 minute mark when he showed good defensive awareness and a short burst of pace to nip in ahead of a Feyenoord midfielder to win possession back for his side just inside the opposition’s half. However, it didn’t go so well when he tried intercepting a short pass in a crowd on the edge of his own box – the ball found its way to a Feyenoord forward who almost scored.

In a way, Maher’s performance was reminiscent of Arsenal’s own Jack Wilshere. At one point, when he burst between two defenders’ challenges into the Feyenoord half before being pushed over as the opposition realised the danger, you could have been forgiven for thinking AZ had signed Wilshere on loan.

On top of that, he continuously lurked at the edge of the Feyenoord area instead of rushing into the box with the rest of the AZ midfielders. The fact that he recognised his own shortcoming of not being particularly good in the air, as well as realising that his side needed someone there in case the ball broke, is promising.

Overall, the young star was composed and assured on the ball, showing an elegant touch and dribbling style – he made two promising runs in the first half when drifting out wide; first getting down the right wing to get in a decent cross, before taking down a cross-field pass assuredly and wriggling past his man, although he then lost his balance.

He appears to have a slight tendency to over-elaborate, but works hard off the ball to chase opponents down when he has the freedom to roam across the pitch – something he seems to like to do. Penetrative passes are also a part of his game on today’s evidence – rather than delaying a counter-attack, he often gets the ball and fires it into a more advanced forward in a good position.

Other than some good passes and touches in the second half, he wasn’t involved much – Nick Viergever was dismissed for a poor tackle in the second period, which seriously disadvantaged AZ. His main involvement of the second 45 was a mazy run which was forced into the corner by the impressive Bruno Martins-Indi. He attempted to lose his man with some extraordinarily quick footwork, but was unable to do so (more due to the competence of his marker than anything).

He wasn’t able to have much of an impact on the game, with Feyenoord winning 3-1 thanks to impressive performances from Graziano Pelle, Jean-Paul Boëtius and the afore-mentioned Jordy Clasie. However, there were certainly signs of quality and potential. Stay tuned for further match reports on Maher, and also perhaps Clasie, whose drilled volley from 20 yards put Feyenoord 2-1 up.

New series on CoA: scouting reports

Don't worry, we've not been linked with John Utaka

Don’t worry, we’ve not been linked with John Utaka

Firstly, I have to apologise for the lack of content on this blog. I’ve been quite busy with college, as well as writing for other sites, so I haven’t found myself with much time to post on here. When I have, I’ve mostly been uninspired by the goings-on at the club, on and off-pitch, and I feel like everyone is just repeating each other when it comes to Arsenal these days.

So I’m going to attempt to bring a little freshness to the blog by looking at reported Arsenal targets, in order to broaden my own horizons and bring people information about players we’ve been linked with. I’ll be hoping to bring reports of games players have played, such as this on Alan Dzagoev a few months ago.

I’ve compiled the following list of players to be following, but it’s by no means comprehensive and suggestions are welcome. I’ll mostly be focusing on players who don’t get much coverage, as there’d be little point in doing a report on, say, Pepe Reina.

GK

Vicente Guaita

DEF

Serge Aurier
Sebastien Corchia
Toby Alderweireld
Nicolas N’Koulou
Jonas Olsson
Luke Shaw
Jetro Willems

MID

Etienne Capoue
Paulinho
Mohamed Diame
Luis Gustavo
James McCarthy
Kevin Strootman
Victor Wanyama
Younes Belhanda
Remy Cabella
Christian Eriksen
Viktor Fischer
Mario Götze
Yohan Gourcuff
Will Hughes
Isco
Adam Maher
Arda Turan
Anthony Knockaert
Patrick Herrman
Nathan Redmond

FWD

Adrian Lopez
Stevan Jovetic
Iker Muniain
Robert Lewandowski
Adam Szalai

If there’s a player you’d like to see covered, or a particular game that player is playing in which can be reported on, drop me a tweet at @sdrewfootball.

Scouting Report: Arsenal vs Newcastle

I’d like to think that the petty back and forth between United and Newcastle over the last few days has interrupted their preparations for Saturday. Even if it hadn’t though, we’re going into this match with a full week’s rest and should have the upper hand against an injury-ravaged Newcastle side. Not to mention, apart from the King of Contracts, Demba Ba – who I would take in a blink of an eye this January – the rest of the team have struggled to reach the heights of last season.

Arsenal on the other hand, as we’re used to seeing annually, are beginning the mad mid-season run that salvages a poor start and saves some humiliation after a bad finish to a season. Confidence has to be high coming off three wins as the odds in favour of a fourth.

The Formation

Newcastle have been playing a 4-4-2 more often than the 4-3-3 this season in an attempt to use both Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in their natural positions. This allows them to defend with the ever-popular 2012 trend called “two banks of four”, whatever that is. It’s a strange tactic considering Newcastle don’t generally play very deep. And when they do the midfield line seem to play high as well, leaving a great amount of room between them and the defence that was most obvious against United earlier in the season.

The Gameplan

Get the ball to Demba Ba? Probably. With no real gamebreaker in the lineup for this match I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ba drop deep and try to pull the strings.

Newcastle like to stretch the play when attacking so we need to see more of that tracking back from last weekend. The wingers and overlapping fullbacks stick to the byline and whip the ball in for Cisse and Ba who are very capable in the air. With two strikers up front we need to see more solidity in defence. Often Arsenal play a stopper/cover type combination with Vermaelen rushing out to stop the attack from developing. It doesn’t work on most teams let alone one with two up front.

The Dangermen

Ba will obviously be the biggest threat but we’ll have to be very careful of Tim Krul as well. We’ve seen on many occasions how good a keeper he is on his day. With a threadbare side I’m sure he’s expecting to face a lot of shots on goal and confidence from one good save can easily snowball into a world class performance.

The Weak Link

Gutierrez down their left flank usually compensates for some of Davide Santon’s defensive frailties and Santon’s runs forward are usually covered well by the Argentinian. With one of Obertan and Marveaux replacing him down the left, that wing could be left exposed for the likes of Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain to run down and with the latter’s impressive performance against Wigan, he more than deserves the start.

Missing Mike Williamson through suspension will be a big one as well. He’s the kind of defender we’d expect our front man – especially if it’s Feo – to struggle with. With Steven Taylor out injured as well, we’re going to probably see James Perch moved back into defence where he can pose a problem himself but I feel he’d be a lot easier to beat than Williamson would’ve proved to be.

Newcastle will also be forced to play one of their young midfielders likely to go up against a very tenacious Jack Wilshere so we can cut the ball out in midfield before it gets to the strikers, stopping them posing any real danger.

So we should expect to control this match given there’s multiple areas of the pitch where we have the upper hand.

The Verdict

Between Newcastle’s form and injuries, it’s very difficult to look past an Arsenal win.