Sunday, 29 December 2013

Newcastle vs Arsenal: Match Preview

“We are in the race and we want to stay in it. We won at West Ham and now we must go game by game with a big ambition. But we know that, in this Premier League, you always have to set high standards. As soon as you drop a fraction, you're in trouble."

This was exactly what I wanted to say; Arsene Wenger's words sum it all up. Win, and we can celebrate New Year with being on top. Lose or draw, and we slip behind current leaders Manchester City, and not to mention edge closer towards a quickly improving Manchester United. The situation of the Premier League at this moment is such that every match is regarded as a cup-final, a must win. A very similar situation the last time we visited St. James' Park, I might add.

Of course, the significance of the victories will be different. Back then, we were fighting for 4th place, a chance at Champions League qualification and another chance to go one up on our rivals (where are they in the table again?). Today, we are doing what an Arsenal side are meant to do - shoot for the moon and overtake the teams who have got here through bored Russian billionaires and oil companies.

Our previous performances at St. James' Park have been far from convincing. Last season, of course, was that 1-0 victory through a Koscielny scissor kick - but many would rightly argue that it was a match that could've gone either way. The season before that was the season opener of 2011/12 - a drab 0-0 draw where the highlight was a Gervinho sent off on his debut. The season before - a humiliating 4-4 collapse.

However, many would argue that this is an Arsenal side completely different from the 4-4s and the 0-0s. Never have we seen collapses in this season, and scoring goals is clearly not looking like an issue anymore. However, we would be foolish to underestimate Newcastle United, who have won 7 out of their last 9 matches - defeating Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United along the way. Remy is looking like one of the best loan signings ever, and Yohan Cabaye's form is showing us exactly why Arsene Wenger was interested in him.

It's telling how close the league table would be if we lose at Newcastle, because we'll drop to just 3 points of their vicinity. While no one in their right mind would call Newcastle United as Champions League contenders, them defeating us would certainly shut up some of the critics.

I have a hunch that we are in for a thriller today, but then again, I do get a lot of false hunches. In the end, whatever matters is three precious points, which would take us back on top and watch the Chelsea vs Liverpool match as a neutral to some extent. In this season where our rivals rarely make a mistake, it is imperative to get a victory with the knowledge that at least one of your rivals (or indeed both) are set to slip-up.

In team news, Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny are doubts to participate in the game, but I think the latter will be given the green light. It's difficult to see what midfield Arsene looks set to pick out, but I think that he won't make any change in the whole team apart from replacing the injured Ramsey with Jack Wilshere. Personally, I would like to see a pairing of Flamini and Arteta, with Cazorla as an attacking midfielder, Walcott and Wilshere on the wings and Podolski as a striker. I've said it a lot of times that while I feel that Podolski is not the answer to our striker woes, we should at least give him a chance in that position.

It's about time Giroud gets benched too. His recent performances are simply bordering on decent, and a failure to get a goal in matches where he has been given presentable chances is simply adding on the pressure of being a lone striker in the team. While Ozil isn't suffering from a lack of form at the moment, the manager needs to rest him, especially because he isn't used to being played at this time of the year. Anyway, Santi Cazorla's fine performance against West Ham was largely down to him drifting into the center more often - a sign that he can aptly replace Ozil's tiring legs.

However, knowing the manager well, I'm sure that he will start Ozil and Giroud again, regardless of form and fatigue. He might start Podolski ahead of Cazorla as a result of fan pressure, but I don't see any other changes happening apart from Wilshere slotting in for Ramsey, of course. I'm tired of repeating how stupid a decision it is to overplay Ozil and Giroud and seeing my complaints being fallen on deaf ears. I just hope that my predicted consequences don't occur.

I'm going for a 3-2 Arsenal win today, although I won't be able to see the match, or indeed the Chelsea game. Due to my absence, a different blogger will be reviewing the game.

I think Liverpool will defeat Chelsea today if they aren't thwarted by a bad referee, like against Manchester City. Anyway, the result of that game shouldn't contaminate the significance of three points at St. James', which - I hardly need reminding - would bring us back in control of the title race.

Come on Arsenal.

P.S. Congratulations to Szczesny, Mertesacker, Ozil and Ramsey for being selected in the team of the year. You did us proud.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )