An interesting game today against a Newcastle side that aren’t just in decent form, but have shown they can beat the big boys. Since the start of November they’ve beaten Chelsea at home, as well as Sp*rs and Man Utd away. Alain Pardieu has got them playing well, although defeat to Swansea and a draw with Southampton shows they’re far from invincible.
From our point of the issue is how do we keep the team fresh without losing our momentum. You’d have to think after his goal + assist cameo against West Ham that Lukas Podolski has shown the manager he’s keen to start, but will that be on the left – where Wenger has traditionally deployed him – or as the central striker ahead of Olivier Giroud?
The Frenchman looks as if the season is catching up with him a bit and I think Tim Stillman’s point about his finishing (near the end of this column), is a good one. I don’t think we should overlook the fact that it was strong hold-up play from Giroud that created Podolski’s goal at Upton Park, and it must be tempting for the manager to give him another game to see if can get a confidence boosting goal. However, maybe a game on the bench might be the way to go also.
The other option he has is to use Nicklas Bendtner, who looked lively enough when he came on, but again it’s a tricky one. While people may be seeking change in the centre-forward position, if Bendtner doesn’t perform well then it’s knives out time, simply because of how things have gone for him in recent seasons.
The midfield loses Aaron Ramsey, which could open the door for Jack Wilshere who is available again after his suspension. I think, all things considered, that the boss will go for a Flamini/Arteta double in the midfield as we’re away from home against a team that are high on confidence and will be looking to win this one at home. I don’t think they’ll sit back in a Chelsea style, they’ll have a go and as long as we can stay solid at the back that might suit us.
Then we come to the centre of the defence. It looks as if Laurent Koscielny is fit, the pictures show him in full training with the rest of the squad, so does he come back in for Thomas Vermaelen who has done well in his absence? If he’s fully fit he starts, for me. I think Vermaelen has done a decent job, but I just feel like we’re a bit more solid with Koscielny alongside Mertesacker. At some point, perhaps for Cardiff on New Year’s Day, we might have to give the BFG a rest, so there’s another chance for the Belgian.
Mertesacker himself is looking at players like Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski, who haven’t played as much this season, to make the difference over the festive period:
In a very special period that only happens in England, you need to get the right additions with players who come back from injury. We lost Aaron Ramsey so a good player is maybe out for two or three weeks so we need the right additions now. We have a good squad and that’s going to be vital in the next couple of weeks.
While the manager is calling for the kind of form we’ve shown most of the season:
What we want to do is to fight for the title and, at the moment, we are in the race. What can keep us there is consistency. Until now, we have done that. But you are always judged on your last result.
This period of games is difficult, but it’s difficult for all teams. Newcastle had a nice warm-up for this one playing against 9 men, so it was hardly taxing, but our win against West Ham will have rebuilt some of the confidence we lost during the run which saw us play Everton, Man City and Chelsea.
But the freshness of Walcott and Podolski can certainly make a difference, and it looked to me as if Santi Cazorla was finding some form again after struggling for most of the season thus far to make the same kind of impact as in the last campaign. He was fine tuning his radar against the Hammers, let’s hope he can improve again today and add some end-product.
West Ham’s goal the other day was a collection of mistakes (Walcott losing possession – Arteta’s poor clearance – Szczesny’s fumble), and it those kind of things that have cost us in the recent past. Cut them out and I think we’ve got enough goals in us to take all three points today. I’m expecting a fairly open game, but this is a place that still holds some demons for us, I think. That 4-4 still lurks somewhere in the background, and last season’s 1-0 win was a horrendously tense affair on the final day of the season.
But, if we’re to be title contenders, these are the games we’ve got to get something from. It’s a test of character as anything else, let’s hope we respond.
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Right, that’s that. Until later
ps – Regarding yesterday’s post, I can now confidently assure you that bourbon + mince pies is not an effective recipe for good football.