Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle: Theo and Podolski spoil Demba Ba’s audition for Wenger
Theo Walcott, Thierry Henry and Demba Ba; these 3 names always seem to crop up in any transfer article related to Arsenal in this prelude to the winter transfer window. And all 3 were present at the Emirates as Arsenal took on the ‘wee club’ Newcastle on a rain marred night.
10 goals were scored at the Emirates, despite the score being 1-1 at half time. Wenger started Theo Walcott as the main striker again and Walcott aptly answered by scoring a scintillating hattrick.
Alan Pardew continued his unfortunate and helpless run of games as the Magpies again scored 3 goals and lost, similar to the game on Boxing Day. With 9 outfield players injured, Pardew’s midfield and defense was stretched to the limit. Marveaux was started in the No.10 role just behind Ba with Cisse and Obertan taking up the wide roles in the 4-5-1. Chiek Tiote returned from suspension to replace Anita and the suspended Williamson was replaced by Perch in central defence.
Arsene Wenger preferred to name an unchanged XI, except for Koscielny to come in for a late injury to Mertesacker. The Frenchman’s presence proved vital to the Gunner’s defence as he was able to match Ba for pace and movement.
Pardew keeps a deep midfield, Podolski and ‘Ox’ prosper
The game started in a very similar fashion to how Arsenal’s games have been these days. Due to Walcott’s presence high up the field, the opposition’s defence is rarely seen coming ahead and so the likes of Cazorla and Chamberlain have all the space between the defence and midfield.
Pardew’s defensive duo of Tiote and Bigirimana were very deep initially and were able to restrict Cazorla’s influence on the ball. This has been the trend followed by the opposition recently, but tonight the likes of Chamberlain and Podolski were able to utilize the space on the wings well.
Chamberlain seems a different player, now that he has Walcott in the centre. Theo’s presence upfront makes the defence very narrow, so ‘the Ox’ is able to run directly at the heart of the defence. Also, Wenger seems to have given him orders to take more shots at goal, as was seen from his 1st minute effort and also as he scored his 1st League goal of the season just after the break.
Podolski on the other hand spends a good amount of time tracking the opposition fullback. This leaves Gibbs to cover the attacking player on that wing, in this case Papiss Cisse. Podolski did his job well and rarely did Simpson venture into an attacking position. The German also able to impose his physicality on Bigirimana, who drifted towards the left to fill up for an advanced Cisse.
Podolski was able to provide an attacking outlet tonight and his assist was perfectly curled in by Walcott. He also provided Theo many more chances but the Englishman couldn’t bring in the finesse. The German also bagged a simple goal, but that was majorly credited to Jack Wilshere’s work rate.
Ba under-used, Marveaux excels
Pardew lined up his troops in a 3-man midfield to match that of Wenger’s, with Marveaux playing through the centre. The Frenchman is pretty similar to his compatriot Ben Arfa in his style and it is difficult to see them both lined up together. Marveaux has no physicality to impose, but the Frenchman has loads of pace and very quick feet. Earlier opposition were seen placing their striker on Arteta to exploit the Spaniard’s lack of height but now Arteta was exposed to Marveaux’s pace.
Marveaux was able to run directly at the centre of defense at times and even tested Szczesny at times. But this kind of tactic by Pardew was not able to utilize Demba Ba’s prowess to it full.
The Senegalese Ba started the game playing next to Koscielny, but rarely won anything in the air next to the Frenchman. Ba is at his best when he makes those off the ball darts. For those, he requires a creative midfield to find his runs, and here Pardew again missed the likes of Cabaye and Ben Arfa. Another moment of brilliance by Marveaux played in Ba for the 3rd goal.
Papiss Cisse spent most of the half playing next to the fullback Gibbs and rarely ventured to the centre. Cisse’s positioning could have been exploited by the likes of Tiote and Bigirimana by playing long balls into that area and capitalizing on Gibbs’s lack of height; but this rarely came. So Cisse was mostly withdrawn from the game.
Theo’s change of position, 2nd half changes
No changes were made at half time, but the Gunners came out looking sharper, particularly down the right. Crosses started to come in from Sagna and Chamberlain, putting pressure on Coloccini and Perch.
Here the positioning of Walcott became very important. Theo started of playing between Coloccini and Santon, which pulled the left-back very narrow and left space for Chamberlain. But Coloccini was able to deal with Theo’s pace easily and put in some good tackle. So Theo moved to the space between Perch and Simpson. This is where the game turned as this brought Podolski much narrower and allowed him to create much more.
Wenger’s introduction of Giroud forced Walcott to shift out right. This had an instant impact as Theo delivered one of his best crosses and was headed in by Giroud. The French striker scored another goal, after another one of Theo’s moments of brilliance. Giroud was really unlucky not to complete a hatrick, when he hit the cross bar in stoppage time.
Theo’s hattrick was definitely one of his best moments of the season. He dribbled past 4-5 Newcastle players and chipped it over a clueless Krul. Comparisons to Henry will now get only stronger as Wenger had revealed that Theo had been taking hints from the Frenchman.
Wenger has a Plan-B
The major point that Wenger will take from this game is that he now has 2 clear game plans, which is not the case with many top clubs like Barcelona and Chelsea. The first would be with Theo down the middle and using his pace and finesse, and other with Theo moving to the right and playing in Giroud, who seems to be utilizing his strengths to the best now. Both these plans revolve a lot around Walcott, and so the next step seems obvious enough for Wenger.
But still this Arsenal team is much too immature to win against stronger opposition. Bacary Sagna especially had a torrid game and was unable to match Obertan for pace or strength. The French fullback was responsible for all 3 goals as all of them started from mistakes on his flank.
Alan Pardew needs his players to return immediately if he wants to salvage anything from this season. And more trouble seems to be brewing in the camp as a well known 7 million clause in Demba Ba’s contract seems certain to be utilized by some club.
Top of the Match: Sylvain Marveaux (Lukas Podolski comes a close 2nd)
Flop of the Match: Bacary Sagna