Welcome to our alternative Newcastle v Arsenal match preview.

Writer Ben Cooper ‘looks forward’ to Saturday afternoon…

Who Manages Them?

It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Arsene Wenger.

‘Le Professeur’ has been hanging around the Premier League for the last two decades but like Bruce Forsyth on Saturday night BBC, his appearances are more for old times’ sake these days, younger or more interesting people have stolen his limelight.

This season he’s had unprecedented fan criticism about his record from a previously amorous section of the Gooners, abused at the Emirates and while getting on trains after matches with banners at the grounds calling for his removal.

One phone-in caller even suggested Sam Allardyce should take over at the Emirates, now that would give North London something to complain about. Even tosspot newshound Piers Morgan felt that he knew better than the twice double winner earlier this season when he said:

“Wenger will never quit and nobody at Arsenal has the guts to fire him. We’re all trapped in a Groundhog Day of mediocrity.”

If Morgan is at SJP today, he will learn to better understand the meaning of the word ‘mediocrity’.

Wenger’s troubles haven’t been solely regarding results. The zips on his coats don’t seem to work anymore since Sports Direct took over the official merchandising at the Emirates and Wenger’s general nervousness has worsened as Steve Bould has morphed into Lord Voldemort on the gunners bench as the season has gone on.

Then there is his annual spat with Jose Mourinho, Wenger pushed the Portuguese on the Stamford Bridge touchline in October though Wenger later told reporters that he hadn’t seen the push, only Mourinho’s initial foul in the build-up. Wenger finally lost his temper as first A&E incumbent Jack Wilshire and then goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were castigated for smoking and everyone got involved in the debate:

“I don’t want to talk about that because what happens in our dressing room stays in our dressing room – apart from the fact that it doesn’t stay in there,” said the Arsenal boss. You tell ‘em Arsene.

Personally, I don’t think Wenger’s post-match comments have helped him this season, his “Monaco didn’t deserve to go through” this week typical of a lack of grace. For a man so educated in the science of football he often fails to grasp the most obvious parts of the sport, in this case that football isn’t about what you ‘deserve’, 52,000 people will be able to tell him that this afternoon.

newcastle v arsenal

All that aside, Wenger has built a team that is a pleasure to watch at times. Arsenal are the most attacking team in the Premier League and despite only really pretending to  challenge for the title this year, they are only a point behind second placed Man City, in the FA Cup semi-final and have just been knocked out of the Champions League last 16 on away goals, not bad at all. The Gunners play some brilliant football, have been excellent again since the turn of the year and as Wenger admits:

“We have to continue to improve. We are a better team today than four months ago.”

Just like NUFC then.

Who Have They Signed?    

Wenger spent a fortune this summer right across the team with goalkeeper David Ospina, defenders Mathieu Debuchy, Paulista and Calum Chambers, midfielder Krystian Bielik and forwards Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck moving to North London for just under £100million.

Ospina should play today after some impressive performances since taking the smoking jacket from Szczesny, £16million Paulista may come back into the team after injury and Calum Chambers will be in the squad but may not play after Wenger alluded to the young player not quite having the temperament for the PL stage just yet:  ”

He has the quality to be where he is. The only danger is psychological.”

Nice of Wenger to get that out in the open. Certainly it can’t harm a young player’s development to bring any psychological issues out into the public domain can it? I mean, the more people who know about it, the better off he’ll be! Possibly.

Not that they needed any more attacking talent but over half of the money spent was up front. £16million summer signing Danny Welbeck said about Arsenal: “I’ve envisaged myself playing in this team before”, presumably during his trophy-less last season at Manyoo, the perfect preparation for a long career at Arsenal.  Perhaps the Gunners most exciting signing was £35million Barca forward Alexis Sanchez, excellent in last summer’s world cup. Sanchez was hailed as the “last piece of the jigsaw” by many but the same people said that about Ozil last season as well and great player though Sanchez is, he won’t give them any pace at the back or a defensive shield to prevent quick-breaking attacks, which is what their CL defeat this season suggests they need. Sanchez may be the “last piece of the jigsaw”, but if you haven’t got a table to put your jigsaw on it all falls apart. This summer Arsenal need to buy a table to put their jigsaw on.

Who Have We Seen Before?  

Mathieu Debuchy, a £5.5million signing from Lille who came to NUFC to play with his friends but when his friends left, he left as well. He played 43 times for us and departed in the summer of 2014 for twice what we paid for him, Mike Ashley’s trousers were round his ankles after that bit of business. I was never Debuchy’s biggest fan, apart from his inconsistent performances I could not get the pitch of his song right either, I’m no Pharrell, I was always singing it in the wrong key.

NUFC replaced Debuchy with Daryl Janmaat for half the cash, which made me happy as Daryl has no song yet and seems better than Debuchy despite having some similar inconsistencies, the only downside to the deal that the FCB trousered the remaining £6million rather than spending it on the squad. For Debuchy’s part, a dislocated shoulder means he won’t play today. That same dislocated shoulder has also coincided with Arsenal winning most of their games. Like his friend Cabaye, Debuchy may well regret leaving Newcastle. Sure Arsenal are a better team, but that means nothing if you can’t get in it.

A Special Mention For:    

Nice to see a dip in form hasn’t affected Gunners attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil. He has managed to switch off from his indifferent contribution enough to stress the important things about the game, he has revealed he takes a personal grooming kit to every Gunners game, complete with moisturiser.

newcastle v arsenal

The German midfielder posed for pictures with team-mates Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez as part of an interview GQ.

“I bring my own grooming kit to the game… moisturiser, gel and shampoo. I like to take care of myself. I think as a human being you need variety; you can’t just do football.”

Well maybe he could start by “doing football”, then moving on from there. At the minute, the only thing he is doing is his hair.

Are We Going To Win?

We can win, even with the squad we have available. Not that Head Coach John Carver seems to agree, JC has chosen to reveal that the board of directors have apologised to him for the lack of strength in the squad and that they will address that in the summer. Nice of him to let that out on the eve of a big match with a number of players available who will be keen to show their worth.

So much for the ‘you have your chance now take it’ approach to management, or head-coach-ment. The Gunners have their weaknesses and it may be better to focus on them. They rarely score from outside the box, which allows teams to defend deep. They are masters at passing through teams but if you deny them space in the penalty area, they don’t shoot much, which means you can defend deep and compact.

Defensively they have very little pace and it is ironic that the latest prodigy to fill the CDM role they should have spent £30 million on years ago is 23 year old Francis Coquelin, on loan at Charlton earlier in the season.

Slower still is the statue of Per Mertesacker they have in their central defence. A lot of goals Arsenal concede occur either when Mertesacker is dragged out wide and skinned or he is out wide and skinned and Koscielny is beaten in the air. For those reasons we need to defend deep and attack quickly with a striker who can drag a defence around a bit and midfielders who can get up to support him.

The key for me is Moussa Sissoko. Since his early season brilliance playing in that counter-attacking central role, both Carver and Pardew before him have moved him around to accommodate other, less dominating players. Let “The Moose” loose and get him barging his way through a team he should want to show his quality against. The last 16 of the Champions League saw Arsenal lose to a team they really should have beaten. Let’s hope it is the same today.

My suggestion for today’s team/formation:

newcastle v arsenal

Enjoy the game…

NUFC Signed Prints - shop.themag.co.uk