28th August 2015: A new Newcastle lie in wait

Welcome to Matchday Eve, which for the first time this season, is otherwise known as Friday.

Although it’s great to have Arsenal play in the Premier League on a Saturday for the first time in what seems like about 33 years, it does mean that once we’ve devoured our Gunners-flavoured goodness by 3pm tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be an eternity until we’re back in action thanks to the international break.

Anyway, before we have to endure that excruciating absence of Arsenal, we have the small matter of a trip north to St James’ Park, to take on a very new Newcastle, boasting new players, a new manager and in the form of wannabe Mario Balotelli – Aleksandar Mitrović – a whole new level of striking spike.

Thank God then for Gabriel, whose likely inclusion in our starting line-up tomorrow because of Per Mertesacker’s illness, should provide the requisite bite in our back four to counteract Mitrović’s nastiness. And Arsene Wenger, speaking at his press conference yesterday morning, revealed the latest team news ahead of our fourth league game of the campaign, starting with his centre backs. He said:

Mertesacker is still sick and we will know more about Koscielny today. He might have a test on his back today and I will certainly know more tomorrow morning. The less likely to be fit is Mertesacker. I would like them to be available but that’s part of the season, you can’t complain about that.

He then provided an update on long term absentees Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, as well as suggesting his squad as a whole should now be nearing peak match fitness after a relatively disappointing start to the season results-wise:

Danny Welbeck is progressing well. He should be available, if all goes well, after the international break. Jack Wilshere is just behind Welbeck, maybe one week after the international break he will certainly come back into full training. I think we are ready to play 90 minutes but maybe it’s normal as well that after two or three games, you are not completely at 100 per cent. That comes slowly. We have started late and as well some players, like Alexis, have come in on August 3 and are not completely there.

The boss refers to Alexis Sanchez not being completely match fit above, and conceded his team hasn’t achieved full flow collectively so far this term, suggesting we’ve been too rushed with our finishing. But he also pointed out we have been more dangerous away from home in recent times, with Arsenal’s hosts less inclined to act like Mourinho and park a bus, than visitors to Emirates stadium:

Our results away from home, with goalscoring opportunities and our finishing percentage has been higher recently. Teams come and defend very deep at our home, so as long as we have not scored the first goal it is maybe more difficult to open up the defences and in the recent two games that is what happened to us. Maybe we are not firing on all cylinders at the moment. By definition, the finishing is a little bit cyclical and it goes in cycles. Finishing qualities come and go and you do not always know why, but certainly at the moment we want it so much at home that we’re trying to force it a little bit. It doesn’t look natural enough in our finishing qualities because we want to force the situation a little too much.

And although we go into the game with the Magpies unbeaten in 9 meetings and off the back of 7 consecutive wins, Arsene highlighted that Newcastle are always a force to be reckoned with at home, with a vociferous support backing them all the way:

We want to do well at Newcastle but it’s always very, very, very tight and very committed there because the crowd is always behind their team. They have just come out from a good result at Manchester United so it’s important that we prepare well and we give absolutely everything to win this game before the break.

Which brings me to what our starting line-up might look like come 12.45pm tomorrow. I think if Koscielny has recovered from his back injury (and snaps of him in training today suggest he has), then he’ll come straight back into the side with Gabriel shifting to the right of him and Calum Chambers dropping to the bench.

The rest of the back five picks itself you’d have thought, so the only real question marks, I suppose, revolve around the potential inclusion from the get-go of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

I really can’t envisage Arsene bringing both in and I doubt he’d drop Olivier Giroud after the Frenchman grabbed two goals in the same fixture last season. That said, I think we could do with a little more pace in the side and although I felt he preformed very well on the whole against Liverpool on Monday night, if anyone was to be dropped to accommodate one of Theo or the Ox, I’d be leaning towards leaving out Ramsey.

We’ll find out soon enough I guess.


Back post match tomorrow.

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