After two insufferable weeks, the international break is over and Premier League football is back, with Arsenal in town this weekend as we look for our first win of the new season.
Despite this being just our fifth game of the season, this is now our fourth against one of the league’s ‘top 6’, with our three previous all being 2-1 defeats at the hands of Spurs, Chelsea and Man City.
Some have praised us for staying in the game and defending well, but the lack of attacking intent and our ultra-cautious approach has frustrated just as many.
The big question is, will we ditch the five-man defence, go back to 4-2-3-1 and ‘have a go’ in this one? I think we will.
We’ll never be gung-ho – and rightly so given what our organised and disciplined approach delivered last season – but Benitez will know that this Arsenal team can be got at; just as we proved when we beat them at our place back in April.
Here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
I see us reverting back to a slightly less defensive 4-2-3-1, meaning it’ll be one of Clark, Schar, Fernandez that partners Lascelles – and I expect it to be Fernandez who gets the nod. He’s been quietly impressive in his three appearances so far, he’s a player Rafa knows well and is someone I expect to be Rafa’s preferred partner for Lascelles while Lejeune is out.
Ritchie and Shelvey’s returns are inevitable now they’re fully fit, with Ki almost certain to drop out as a result.
I really do want to see Rondon start, but I can see Benitez going with Joselu. Why? The Venezuelan only returned from international duty yesterday (after playing in the early hours of Wednesday morning out in Miami) and has only trained once since he got back.
The same applies to Yedlin, but Rondon is someone who is still working on his fitness after a total lack of preseason, with his replacement (Joselu) seeming like a far more viable option to come in than Manquillo (Yedlin’s potential replacement).
If Rondon seems fully fit and isn’t showing any real signs of fatigue then Rafa may well go with him (and I hope he does), but I get the feeling he’ll start Joselu – who is confident and in decent form with two goals in our opening four games.
Rafa is cautious and he’s not afraid to start Joselu at the worse of times, so he’ll have no problem picking him if Rondon doesn’t look like he’s able to put in a 60-minute shift.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett – Diame, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez, Kenedy – Joselu.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in the Arsenal squad:
Alexandre Lacazette: He really impressed me in this fixture last season. He’s a lethal finisher who’ll lash anything in the box into the roof of the net if given half the chance. His hold up play for a smaller striker is quite impressive too, with him doing well to hold off Lascelles at time when we played them back in April.
Matteo Guendouzi: The 19-year old has won Arsenal’s player of the month for August, putting in some brave performances in midfield following a mixed debut against Man City. He looks bright, energetic and isn’t afraid to get stuck in or show for the ball, but he is still very young and inexperienced. Diame needs to get at him from the off.
Petr Cech: It wouldn’t surprised me if they started new signing Leno instead, but I sincerely hope not if. Cech has looked past it for a while and has looked pretty woeful whenever I’ve seen Arsenal this season. He’s always got a mistake in him and his passing out from the back (which Arsenal now seem to insist on) has been atrocious.
Aaron Ramsey: A goalscoring midfielder who has knack of getting into the right place at the right time. We’ll need to keep an eye on him and watch our for his late runs into the box.
Predicted Arsenal XI – (4-2-3-1) Cech – Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal – Xhaka, Guendouzi – Ramsey, Özil, Aubameyang – Lacazette.
Rafa Benitez has confirmed that both Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey will return to the squad after missing the Man City game.
A late decision will be made on Rondon and Yedlin, with both returning just yesterday from international duty.
Arsenal appear to have no fresh injury issues, with Alex Iwobi back after missing their last game through illness.
I see us approaching this one as we did against Spurs. The question will be whether we can get the balance right, with it being vital that we take our chances – something this Arsenal side are bound to give you if you get at them.
Lacazette and Aubameyang are quality strikers who could give us real problems, but if we stay switched on at the back, win the midfield battle and get into them from the off then we have every chance of getting a result.
I watched them at Cardiff and as good as their striking duo are, they still look soft at the core.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Arsenal
Howay the lads!