NUFC Opponent Report: Analysing Arsenal’s trip to Tyneside

Words by Rob Saunders - you can follow him on Twitter @robsaunders9

Newcastle United vs Arsenal – 29<th August 2015; St. James’ Park - 12:45.

Before the season began, Arsenal were being touted as title favourites and with the squad and staff at their disposal, there was no reason to dispute that. Having signed Petr Cech from rivals Chelsea, a position that has weakened Arsenal season after season had been sorted. However, with the experienced goalkeeper being the only acquisition to date, and with Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to delve too deep in to the transfer market, cracks have again started to show for the Gunners.

Their performances this season have done nothing to suggest this will be the year Arsenal reclaim the title from Mourinho’s Chelsea, and fans are seen once again clambering for new faces before the transfer window shuts. Against West Ham, their defence was as fragile as ever, and their new £11 million man between the sticks had a case of first-night nerves - being at fault for one if not both of the goals in a 2-0 defeat. There were positives a week later, as Arsenal did what they often struggle to do; beat a lower side away from home; Arsenal wining 2-1, with Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil shining to stop the tactically astute (!) Alan Pardew and his Crystal Palace side.

Things were looking up for Arsenal, too. They hosted Liverpool next and with Brendan Rodgers’ side looking shaky up front, fans were confident of getting all three points. However, the first half was a nightmare for Arsenal, defensively poor and lacking promise up-front, had Petr Cech to thank for keeping them at 0-0 with the keeper getting over his nightmare debut with a string of fantastic saves. The second half was better, but still not good enough and Arsene Wenger has admitted his side has been ‘very average’ thus far.

However, Arsenal have arguably the best midfield in the league and one of the best in Europe. Attacking midfielders Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all have the ability to turn a game on its head, with Sanchez doing so many times last year to help Arsenal to finish 3rd in the league. With Ozil and Sanchez likely to be deployed on either wing, Newcastle’s defence will have to put in a similar performance to the one at Old Trafford a week previous.

Another plus for Arsenal is the way they play. Patient build-up play, silky passing and quick attacking movement makes it hard to stop them when in full flow. If Newcastle were to defend like they did against Manchester United, then there’s no reason to suggest this Arsenal side cannot be stopped, but with the fluidity of the Arsenal side - which was demonstrated for only 30 minutes of their game against Liverpool on Monday – Newcastle’s task will perhaps be greater than last week.

Newcastle United last week were like a team that has not been seen by fans for years now (perhaps Pardew and Carver’s reign just made everything seem longer than it actually was). Defensively confident, strong promise when attacking, somewhat pleasing on the eye when in possession – this was not a team you would associate as being Newcastle United. Chancel Mbemba, playing at right back for only the second time in his career looked like he had played there all his life, Steven Taylor putting his body on the line with a series of blocks and Fabricio Coloccini playing like the player who once won a gold medal with Argentina at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Assured and compact, with the assistance of Vurnon Anita and Jack Colback Newcastle stayed strong and held Manchester United to a goalless draw at Old Trafford. Pair that with the 4-1 rout at Northampton and you can assume that confidence is growing on Tyneside.  Not to demean Northampton in any way, Newcastle made 9 changes and obviously the only way to make this victory relevant to Saturday is to say that a win and 4 goals is going to give the whole team a lift. With Per Mertesacker injured and Laurent Koscielny awaiting a fitness test, the power and aerial threat of Aleksandar Mitrovic, and the pace and trickery of Florian Thauvin and Ayoze Perez should have Arsene Wenger already hoping that his attackers can make up for the defensive struggles ahead.

If Newcastle remain as compact defensively and open when attacking, this should be a match for the taking for the hosts. However, Arsenal can be one of the most clinical sides in the league if they are in the right mood, and perhaps this match comes too soon for Steve McClaren’s side.

Three Players to watch:

Alexis Sanchez – Arguably the signing of the season when he arrived at The Emirates last season, Sanchez brings a pace and deadly right foot that defenders often struggle to deal with. Rumoured to be starting on the left, he will be looking to cut inside of the returning Daryl Janmaat and firing in one of his trademark ‘thunderbastards.’

Mesut Ozil – Criticised by the casual fan for too long now. The German’s calmness and vision when attacking is one of Arsenal’s biggest threats; he’s shown time and time again what he is capable of. Don’t ask him to defend, though.

Aaron Ramsey – Transformed in the last couple of seasons, Ramsey has starred for club and country, taking Wales in to the top 10 in the world. His box to box dynamism is something that both Georgino Wijnaldum and Jack Colback will have to keep an eye on as Ramsey helps out both up and down the pitch.

Prediction – 1-2. Arsenal can turn up just like they did against Palace and stop the momentum for the Magpies. However, if Newcastle score first, this game will be turned completely on its head. Finally some optimism on Tyneside!

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