Morning all, welcome to the start of another week.
The weekend has provided us with further motivation, if it were needed, ahead of tonight’s game against Newcastle. Liverpool lost, meaning we could stretch our lead over them; Chelsea won, which draws them level on points with us, while Sp*rs went down 1-0 at Everton and a win for us tonight would mean the gap, such as it is, is just a single point.
All these things will serve to sharpen the focus, no doubt, but this is a game we should be well and truly up for anyway. With regard to team news we’ve got Arteta and Ramsey back from their minor injuries while Andre Santos is available again after three months out with ankle ligament damage. There remains a question mark over Yossi Benayoun but he could be fit to take a place on the bench.
The return of midfielders is welcome, there were some heavy legs in there against Milan, and with the manager urging caution and responsibility over the use of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I suspect we’ll line us as follows later: Szczesny – Sagna – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Song – Arteta – Rosicky – Gervinho – Walcott – van Persie
As well as the three teams already mentioned, Newcastle are still there or thereabouts in the race for a top four finish. A win tonight would put us eight points clear of them, and we should go into this game boosted by recent results and the way we’re scoring goals at home. The transformation in the last couple of weeks might have been borne out of great frustration, those two cup exits have clearly sparked some kind of a reaction, but three games and three good results, while obviously welcome, are just a small part of what we have left to do.
We cannot afford to let up now. There can be no resting on any laurels just yet, after tonight there are just 10 games to go, just 30 points left to play for and every single one counts. Confidence should be high though. We stuck three past the Serie A leaders, five past a Sp*rs team some pundits were suggesting might be champions, and seven past Blackburn in our last three home games.
Even if the elimination from Europe was a disappointment it’s crucial that the positives are taken from the result and the performance. And what’s been notable in recent games is how we are much more positive and pacy at home. Maybe it’s something to do with getting a bit of confidence back, the ball is moving more quickly, we’re more incisive in the final third (and, of course, we have someone like Robin van Persie up top), but for me the most interesting part is how we’ve worked hard when we don’t have the ball.
On the Arsecast a few weeks ago Lee Dixon mentioned the fact we were a bit too stand-offish when the opposition had the ball, not doing enough to win it back quickly. Again, confidence plays a part. When a team is struggling the tendency is to sit back and try not to leave any space, but against Sp*rs and Milan in particular, the way we chased down the ball, pressed and tried to win it back higher up the pitch than usual played a big part in the results.
Newcastle are a tidy enough side, with some very effective strikers, but defensively I think they have issues which we can exploit. Away from home, since December, they have conceded five goals twice, and four once. In our last three home games we have scored fifteen times. So if there’s an imbalance there let’s make sure we do our best to take advantage of that. And the boss believes tonight will be as much down to what we do at the back as up front, saying:
Newcastle is a team that has offensive strength so a good defensive performance will be needed.
Ultimately this will all come back to attitude and effort, how much we want this, how much we want to take the three points. And if the team need any further motivation then, for me anyway, there’s still some unfinished business with Newcastle after that 4-4 last season. I think that, as much as the Carling Cup final, derailed us last year, and sometimes demons like that need to be exorcised.
If we play like we did against Milan, if our drive and work-rate are similar, if we do the simple things well, then this is a game which we can win. That’s not to underestimate Newcastle, you cannot do that with any team in this league – something we know only too well – but three points tonight would help continue the kind of momentum we’re going to need heading into the final stages of this season.
Other than that, not a great deal going on. The boss says Gervinho has learned his lesson after his red card on the opening day of the season but tonight there’s no chance of running into Joey Barton again as he’s too busy getting relegated at QPR. The Ivorian has been pretty quiet since his return from the African Cup of African Nations of Africa playing for a Cup, and if we’re being honest, still has some way to go to convince people of the quality the manager believes he has. Let’s hope he chooses tonight to do that.
And remember, if you can’t see the game later on, if you’re stuck in work in a different time zone, you can keep right up to date with the game on the live blog. It works on all your devices (phones, pods, pads, puds etc) and it gives you up to the second live commentary from the game. Check back later on for a blog post with all the details or bookmark the default liveblog page and the updates will start closer to kick off.
Right, that’s that. Fingers crossed for tonight, until later.