Kieran - playing well
With Tottenham losing yesterday, and Chelsea winning, we are in the unusual position of looking up the table for progress, but knowing we are under real pressure from those immediately below. If the players need something to focus the mind after the past couple of momentous weeks then a look at the Premier League table should suffice. Liverpool's defeat at Sunderland also means that a win over Newcastle will mean just Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea remain to battle it out for two positions in the fabled top four. When placed in to that kind of context this really is another massive, must win game.
Arsene Wenger gave us a dose of the good stuff on Friday with the team news. The midfield numbers problem has eased somewhat and he now has a selection dilemma. I suspect that Arteta will come back in, but Aaron Ramsey should still be kept out of the side by the in-form Tomas Rosicky. The boyo's presence on the bench, however, will provide the Manager with an option he maybe didn't have against AC Milan last Tuesday. It will be interesting to see what he does with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There is an obvious need for him to be treated with kid gloves. Jack Wilshere's stress-fractures, and the fact that The Ox is likely to go to Euro 2012, mean Arsenal have to be extra cautious with the amount of football he plays. The temptation will be there to play the man in form so it is a difficult one for Wenger to assess. My preference would be for him to play alongside Song again, instead of Arteta, or to replace Gervinho on the left. I can see him being put back on the bench, and maybe used as in impact player in the second-half tomorrow.
More good news on Friday came with the return of Andre Santos. Unlike the mugs on the TV and in The Sun I was really impressed by Santos before his injury. As with other players at Arsenal the media decided he was unable to defend etc, while ignoring the fact that he is rarely beaten in a one-on-one. Yes, he bombs forward a bit at times and gets caught upfield, but I think he was just learning the English game (at a fast rate, too) when he was injured. Given the choice I would have him in the side ahead of Kieran Gibbs. Having said that I think Gibbs has found some fine form of late. After playing a few games he has got better as the weeks have passed. His performance against Spurs was excellent, though fitness worries are still there. I noticed that he was holding his groin after about twenty minutes last Tuesday so it was no surprise to hear that he may be a doubt for tomorrow. I hope he is fit as he would have to start the game, simply because Santos has played no football at all. Having two fit left-backs would indeed be a luxury for Arsenal.
Newcastle have had a season that was far from expected. They may have dropped a little of late, but everything is relative and their start to the campaign was first class. I find it difficult to praise any side managed by Alan Pardew, but credit where it's due I suppose. Pardew really is a mug and he proved it again with his behaviour last Sunday. I couldn't believe it when he claimed to have never done anything like that before - Arsenal fans remember well his time at West Ham and his confrontation with Arsene Wenger. I want Arsenal to destroy any team managed by people like Pardew, and tomorrow night is no exception. At least they've got rid of that cretinous animal Barton.
We played Newcastle on the first day of the season and came away with a battling draw. You might remember that we were denied a stone-wall penalty (the first of many this season) before Barton's antics got a naive Gervinho red-carded. Hopefully the players will remember the injustices of that afternoon (and yes, I know Song should also have been sent-off, but so should Joey Barton!) and put it to good use tomorrow.
When Sky moved the game to Monday I thought I would be missing it due to work. However, thanks to some shift-changes and working in London for the day, I will be able to get across on the Tube and watch the match after all. I'll post a review on Tuesday night when I finally get home from work.