How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Newcastle United

Charlie MelmanCorrespondent IIDecember 27, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at Boleyn Ground on December 26, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

After a satisfying and necessary comeback victory over West Ham, Arsenal will get right back into action during the busy New Year's period with a trip to Newcastle.

The extraordinary 4-4 draw at St. James' Park a couple years ago will always be seared into Arsenal fans' minds, but it was at that stadium in May, on the final day of last season, that the Gunners clinched a Champions League berth at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur.

That success sprung Arsenal to their current position at the top of the table and certainly enabled the signing of Mesut Ozil, who has been the biggest single story of Arsenal's year.

The club has been in pole position in the Premier League for almost 100 days now and will need to pick up three points against Newcastle to remain there. Only three points separate first-placed Arsenal from fourth-placed Liverpool. Newcastle, in sixth place, are only six points behind.

Here's how Arsene Wenger might set up his team to keep up with the pack.


Newcastle, unlike West Ham, are not the sort of side against which a manager can rotate his squad without fear.

Despite the hectic schedule, Wenger is usually reluctant to change a defense that is working. He does not have very many options—Laurent Koscielny has not been reported as fully fit yet—but neither Kieran Gibbs nor Bacary Sagna deserve to lose their places.

Mikel Arteta doesn't, either. But he has been noticeably worse when overplayed this season and Mathieu Flamini has shown his ability to shield Arsenal's back line capably in the Spaniard's absence.

He will probably not have Aaron Ramsey ahead of him, the Welshman appearing to pull a muscle in his thigh against West Ham. But Jack Wilshere returns from the two-game suspension he served after flipping off Manchester City's fans two weekends ago and he should be able to fill Ramsey's boots after a long rest.

Perhaps Wilshere is just the sort of dynamic presence that Arsenal need in the middle of the pitch and have been missing due to Ramsey's recent dip in form. Regardless, swapping the two is easy.

Mesut Ozil might be rested, too, after Wenger said the German will need a little break to compensate for the absence of the Christmas recess he is used to in La Liga.

The decision not to do so against West Ham was somewhat surprising and sitting Ozil down is always a risk. But if Wenger bites the bullet now, the German should be fit and ready for Arsenal's first games in 2014.

Ozil's absence means Santi Cazorla can return to the central attacking midfield role where he can best express his creativity and buzz around the pitch as much as he wants. Cazorla frequently drifts infield anyway but assigning him there from the outset will prevent Arsenal's attack from becoming lopsided.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Lukas Podolski of Arsenal celebrates victory after the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at Boleyn Ground on December 26, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Lukas Podolski, who shone on Boxing Day on his return from a torn hamstring, will compound the advantage of moving Cazorla to the center by adding more width to Arsenal's attack.

Whereas Kieran Gibbs is usually the only player whipping in crosses from the left flank, Podolski fizzes the ball in with equal danger and frequency. His excellent cross set up Theo Walcott's second goal against West Ham, which ultimately handed Arsenal three points.

If Olivier Giroud continues to underperform at striker, Podolski's directness and willingness to have a crack at goal from anywhere within 30 yards will be extremely valuable.

There is a chance that Arsene Wenger might risk starting Nicklas Bendtner up front to give Giroud a rest after the latter worked his lungs out in midweek. The Dane certainly cannot score fewer goals or provide fewer assists than Giroud, so in that sense the move is not particularly dicey.

But Bendtner does work considerably less hard to press high up the pitch and get involved in Arsenal's build-up play than Giroud. Bendtner did score in his only Premier League start of the season, but it was against Hull, who are considerably worse than Newcastle.

So expect another round of Giroud attempting to redeem himself up front. On the off chance he gets off the mark, Arsenal's chances of taking three points will be significantly improved.