The chance to revisit the scene of one of last season’s crimes and an opportunity for something a little different. Whether Unai Emery views it similarly is the key.
In the past, back-to-back victories would be the opportunity to keep the same XI. Maybe that old football wisdom holds true today, but I don’t think so. We’ve got away with it to some extent, which isn’t denigrating the overall performance, just the wide open spaces in midfield. Hollywood reports John Ford is scoping Arsenal games for a remake of ‘How The West Was Won’.
Hopefully, he’ll be sadly disappointed with the first start of Lucas Torreira. The Uruguayan’s reputation is increasing every time he doesn’t play from the start; today might be the occasion where he emerges from that mist and becomes the defensive midfielder we’ve been beseeching the manager – whoever it was – to play.
To be fair to me, that isn’t just wishful thinking or whinging on my part. Unai Emery agrees:
“[Arsenal] need to improve on the pitch with our personality and our ideas. We want to do better than the last match in Cardiff.
“We want the same result but we can be better on the pitch.”
There’s no sugar-coating from the boss; “we can do better on the pitch” is the truth. The players are great going forward but need to tighten up on the defensive side. Asking Hector Bellerin to bomb forward is all well and good, but you can’t expect him to cover right-back at the same time.
We haven’t got the balance between defence and attack right, and if we’re honest, we’re some way off finding it. Maybe the dozen or so players who stayed behind during the international break got the message. Will the others pick up on it?
Newcastle, as with the start of last season, are in a bad way. Benitez is fortunate that Mike Ashley is hanging around like a bad smell to take supporters ire; I’m not sure whether the Gallowgate is that impressed with him but from what I’ve read, the owner is the one bearing the brunt of dissent.
I’m sure, however, the former Liverpool boss eyes the gaps and believes his players can exploit them this afternoon. Whether his players are as confident is another matter. The one concern I have is that we just don’t defend well. Cardiff hadn’t scored before they faced us; allow Arsenal to right that record. Newcastle have three goals and could easily double that total if they have a centre-forward who knows where the goal is. Big if.
The focus is abnormally on Mesut Özil with the relationship between Emery and the player being blown out of proportion. It’s a boss-employee gig; not friends, but getting on so long as the German does as he’s told. We expect more from him, there’s no secret Unai does as well, so there’s no issue with that.
Previously, we didn’t wonder about Thursday night’s team. It was youngsters with fringe players; Unai isn’t going down that route:
“I have proven with my experience to know the best way to manage the players.
“My idea isn’t to change 11 players between one competition and the next competition.”
No-one expected 11 to drop out; we don’t have a proven goalscorer to take over from PEA unless you rest Lacazette today. Which is possible; Emery said he will tailor his XI to the opposition. However, I’d expect Leno, one of the young central defenders, Lichtsteiner, to come in. Perhaps Welbeck, but half the side which features today will play Thursday.
Which brings us in a no way contrived manner to today’s team.
Not many changes to the Cardiff game. It must be tempting for Emery to move to a 4-5-1 when the Barcodes have the ball before springing into the 2-0-9 attacking formation he prefers. If Torreira is to start, the one to make way will be Guendouzi. Nothing the 19-year-old has done is wrong, and in many respects, it is a harsh decision. However, the good of the team, etc.
Some will argue Xhaka is the one who should make way. It’s a fair point but the Swiss is improving his form with a key reason being the absence of someone to do the defensive work. We saw with Switzerland, put a defensive midfielder alongside him and Xhaka is a different player.
Which leaves the XI:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Özil, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Ramsey may differ in his view but the balance of the side is more natural with Mkhitaryan on the flanks. The reservation is that the Welshman provides better cover for Bellerin but it is a low bar in judging that.
We shall see. You could fit Ramsey in with Özil on the left if Lacazette doesn’t play. Or start, anyway. Three points is all we ask for, no matter which XI plays.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.