Brazil? I’d Settle For Playing Like France
It would have been hard to imagine our game on the 29th December as being important when the season started – though the Newcastle France connection has played a major part in it being a little more important than we thought back then.
Arsenal are a tough team and, like previous years, the kind to roll us over and we can count as a probable loss (even when we roll THEM back over to finish 4-4). Fast forward five months and it could be one of our most important games of 2013 AND 2014.
What is there for the taking is much more than 3 points. It is also more than closing the gap between us and the gunners by 3 points. It is a statement. It is a sign for everyone to see that we need to be taken extremely seriously.
It was revealed this week that Mathieu Debuchy, once statistical analysis had been applied, was the best right back in Europe. A few weeks ago, someone (possibly Robbie Savage) suggested Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote could walk into the current Manchester United team. Suddenly we’re being noticed. Our journeymen don’t look like journeymen anymore. We’re looking just a little bit special.
But Geordies know the weight of history on our shoulders. Two years ago, we were doing brilliantly until a lapse of form in December (four defeats and only four points from six matches). Sure we came back to finish fifth, but our magpie eyes were on a greater prize.
As recently as our comprehensive win against Cardiff a friend commented ‘we either play like Brazil or we play like Scotland. I’d settle for France’. The Arsenal game is our chance to gauge the true quality of the team. If we win, we can’t excuse it away by thinking ‘Ahh but they’ve lost confidence. They can’t score at the moment. They’re just having a really bad day’. Arsenal are in good form and hugely motivated. We need to prove to ourselves this isn’t just a run of form, it’s a run of quality.
January is a little over a week away and our tails will be in the air to bolster the team with a predatory striker. These are in short supply so we need to look like the team that qualifies for the Champions League. There will be huge interest in the Arsenal game so we need to show the global audience what we can do. Alternatively, if our best players play brilliantly and we lose, that could bring them to the attention of the top teams and top spenders;
So it’s just the three points, closing of the three points gap, Champions League aspirations, and shiny new players should we beat the Arse. What are our chances? Actually not bad at all. There is our good home form, in-form, highly-motivated players against a team without the greatest record on Tyneside.
Having said that, there is the small matter of players like Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil who are world-class and play beautiful football of the highest calibre. There is also that one thing. The seemingly inherent, total and unbelievable unpredictability of Newcastle United.
Should we lose or draw it is not the end of the world. It’s the halfway point of the season. There wouldn’t be any shame in losing to the team that could potentially win the premiership. But it would mean dropping three of the most precious points we can win this season. I certainly don’t fancy us to win away at the Emirates.
One of the nicest problems we now face is we don’t know where we are. On the one hand, the voice of the pragmatist sees that to finish eighth would be a very respectable result. We can’t keep everyone fit forever and it only takes a couple of crunching Stoke tackles to clip our wings for the foreseeable. But there is that horrible, hopeful, optimist within us eyeing Everton in fifth place and just daring to dream of proper, glamorous, exciting European football. And almost regardless of the game against Stoke, one of those voices is going to shut up when we play Arsenal.
The odds are good that it’s going to be the pessimist.
Cover star Yohan features in the latest issue of The Mag on sale outside St.James’ Park before the Stoke match and available in all Tyneside newsagents, or buy online now from THE MAG online shop only £3 +p&p. CLICK HERE TO BUY
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