As a result, I hesitate to generalize about the priorities, motives, or mindsets of Arsenal executives, manager Arsène Wenger and his staff, or the players.
That said, I think it’s fair to say that Wenger prefers an entertaining style of football, one that encourages the attacking players to express themselves. This is both an aesthetic choice and a business choice: Fans pay for style and goals, and it’s easier to recruit great players by promoting their freedom.
For those reasons, my guess is that the manager is not likely to persist much longer with the approach that produced lackluster performances at Southampton and West Ham. One goal in those two matches, regardless of the opposition’s preference to thwart Arsenal rather than assert themselves offensively, is not the return Wenger wants to deliver.
Expect, then, a different Arsenal when Newcastle visit the Emirates on Saturday.
Again, I don’t presume to read the manager’s mind here or to tell him what to do. God forbid.
Instead, I’m just taking him at his word. For example, reflecting on the match at West Ham, he said, “I will adapt a little bit to the problem we face. I played a back four at West Ham because I thought we’d have a lot of the ball and wanted one more offensive player in the team.”
He also noted that he expected Newcastle to approach the match from a similarly defensive posture, so it’s not crazy to conclude that we could see four at the back again on Saturday.
The question is, who will constitute the attack? The starting center forward (Olivier Giroud), one attacking midfielder (Alex Iwobi), and a central midfielder (Jack Wilshere) were all different against West Ham than they had been against Southampton. Those three have largely been part of the “A-Prime” team that we’ve seen in midweek cup matches.
Although perhaps none of those put in such a poor performance individually on Wednesday, the collection certainly did not amount to a scintillating attack. Sometime star man Alexis is also far from his best—for whatever reason. Would Wenger keep his game-changing qualities on the bench when Arsenal really need a spark?
I’ve no idea what the manager will or should do. But I’m fairly confident that the answer will be interesting.
Trends to Watch
Much of the discomfort Arsenal have experienced this season has come on the road. Performances at the Emirates have been much more pleasing, in general. That despite most visitors setting up to defend in the final third. Can the Gunners leave their frustrations where they happened—away from home? Can they overwhelm Newcastle during one exceptional period and then manage the game from that point? And which group of 11 players, and what playing structure, are most likely to produce those outcomes?
How the Match Plays Out
This topic calls for presumption, but here goes: Arsenal are aggressive from the first whistle, closing down the Magpies and jumping on mistakes. The free flow is back, orchestrated by Mesut Özil, and some of the clinical goalscoring edge returns.
Players to Watch
Arsenal. Alexandre Lacazette. Arsenal paid a record fee—and commensurate wages—to acquire the Frenchman from Lyon. It made those investments precisely for conditions like this, when the team is struggling to score. Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s the business.
Newcastle. Isaac Hayden. The former Arsenal prospect will be motivated to show his worth to his former club, and his position at the base of the midfield might allow him to do that. His responsibilities won’t be eased by the absence of partner Jonjo Shelvey.