Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Newcastle preview : Walcott unconvincing up top as yet

Football is back! It seems like an age since our last game, mostly due to the festitivies and what not, and today is an opportunity to keep the run we’re on going.

We’ve won our three last Premier League games, something we hadn’t achieved this season until the win last week. Today, with an almost fully fit squad, and playing a team that went the distance with United just a few days ago, there’s a good chance to make that four.

In terms of the team itself it’s hard to see where he’ll make changes. Personally, I’d have a fit again Olivier Giroud starting up front with Walcott pushed out right at the expense of Oxlade-Chamberlain, but given everything the manager has been saying about Theo up front I’m not sure he’s going to do that. I have to admit I find this sudden deployment of Walcott as a forward a bit worrying, especially given the transfer window is about to open and we need a striker.

If I were being ultra-cynical I’d think it was a cost-saving exercise but I am told we’re looking at striking options, one from the land of Cazorla in particular, so maybe I’m just being a bit of a curmudgeon. Either way, I’m not sure I’m 100% with Arsene when he makes Walcott/Henry comparisons:

I like the signs that I have seen. If you look at my statements, I always said that one day he would play through the middle and it grew in his brain.

He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before. The fact that you play in other positions as well helps your technique.

Leaving aside the fact that Henry was 22 when thrust into the striker’s position at Arsenal, I don’t think the two situations can be equated. I’m not going to suggest that Walcott will never make it in this position for Arsenal – much like one famous poster of emails declared on his website about Henry – but I don’t think there’s any comparison between the two players in terms of their ability and technique. Henry was fast, skilful, aware, a brilliant finisher, had vision and the ability to execute the passes he needed to, and one of the best players in the world season after season. Theo is fast and his finishing is hit and miss.

It’s interesting, in one sense, that Henry had the luxury, if you’ll call it that, of playing in a forward two, which I think would suit Walcott a lot better than the single striker role. But football has changed, you need more than pace to play up front these days, and I maintain it’s not a role which Walcott is suited for or which gets the best out of him. The two recent performances up front were really nothing special. Reading were hopeless and it was Cazorla who did most of the business there, at Wigan he was pretty much anonymous.

Maybe I’m banging on about this too much and it comes across as a ‘thing’ against Walcott but I didn’t see much to be particularly encouraged about, especially when he’s leading us on a merry dance with regards his contract. If he committed to the club and signed a new deal then by all means try and mould him into a centre-forward if he really thinks he can play there, but now it just seems like a least worst option because there wasn’t much else he could do.

Now he’s got Giroud fit again, the transfer window opening, and we shouldn’t be that lacking in the future. If he wants to squeeze everything he can out of Walcott before he goes (or should something radically change and he signs) then he should play him where’s he’s most effective – on the right hand side. Starting today. Please note that if he does start up front and does well, I’m a fan of my own words. They’re delicious.

As for the rest of it, we need to take advantage of the fact that Newcastle may have some tired legs after their midweek exploits and come at them hard and fast. We’ve had a full week since we last played, we should be well rested and well and truly up for this. The midfield trio will make things tick and hopefully will create the chances that those in the more forward positions will convert, but we’ve got to be wary of them as an attacking threat.

Wenger said at his press conference that he wasn’t going to sign Demba Ba, but the question was loaded given the fact we play them today. There wasn’t much else he could say. With a £7m release clause it’d be silly if we weren’t considering a move, not least because he’s a fairly proven Premier League goalscorer. And that’s something we’ve got to be cautious of today. It means discipline at the back, and no silly mistakes, and I think if we can avoid that then we have enough about us to win this game today.

In other news, congratulations to Pat Rice who was awarded an MBE yesterday. Whatever you think of the honours list it’s a nice thing that the fantastic service he gave to the club has been recognised. And he’s so gonna rock the Palace in shorts and Roy Orbison’s shades.

And speculation regarding transfer targets is increasing as Wenger says he envisages being ‘busy’ in the transfer market. Lots of names thrown about, nothing that I’m gonna touch till the window opens though. Then we’ll see what’s what.

We will have full live blog we’ll have full live blog coverage of the game later. That’s up to the second live commentary and score/event updates, which works on your ‘puter, your phone or your shiny new iPad/tablet device.

Check back later for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

Just to let you know that today we’re trialling a new system (please note the default URL has changed too if you’ve got it bookmarked), so bear with us if there’s any oddness/weirdness – and let @arseblog_tom know via Twitter if you notice anything.

Until then, have a good Saturday. Here’s to three points later and Pardew punching the ref in the mouth with his mutant headed rage. Come on you reds!

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