Rafa Benitez was insistent at his press conference today that we shouldn’t look too much into the fact that Arsenal have returned from a long trip back from Russia.
Following the Gunners’ 2-2 draw in Moscow, the squad arrived back in London on Friday morning, and won’t have long to recover before they make their journey north to Tyneside the next day.
The manager says that due to the large squad, our opponents on Sunday can afford to make changes, but I would hazard a guess that at least eight or nine of those that started last night, will be in the starting eleven at St James’ Park.
Arsene Wenger may be putting all his eggs in the Europa League basket, but I can’t see him rotating the team completely. So, what should we do to take advantage of the situation?
1) Start Fast
After long European trips, players can feel jaded, particularly at the start of the games when adrenaline has yet to kick in. With that being the case, we have to front up and start with a high press.
We can then pressure a lethargic Gunners team into making mistakes, and hopefully create a few chances for ourselves in the first half of the match. There’s also no need to be too respectful of a team who have lost eight of their 15 away fixtures this season.
2) Be Clinical
We had eight shots against Leicester last time out and scored two goals. That cutting edge was however lacking in our last home game against Huddersfield where we squandered a load of chances.
With 18 shots but just three on target, there was major concern that we hadn’t made the most of our opportunities, before Ayoze popped up with the winner with ten minutes to go. Unlike the Terriers, Arsenal will punish us if we are not clinical so hopefully, this time round at St James, we will show a bit more composure in front of goal.
3) Don’t change a winning formula
There has been some speculation that Islam Slimani will be given his first start this weekend after being ineligible to play against the Foxes. Rafa was pretty non-committal as expected when asked about starting the Algerian in his press conference, but I’m hoping he’s thinking what I’m thinking.
He has selected the same eleven for the last three league games, and we have won all three. There seems to be little justification for changing a winning formula, especially when we are facing a difficult opponent.