By Rob Kelly
“We have a good dynamic in our team, we won four of our last five games. We had one blip against Stoke but overall I think we are on a good trend.” - Arsene Wenger
THE SET UP
Tuesday night’s emphatic 4-1 victory in Istanbul could barely have come at a better time for Arsenal. Having come under fire following that disappointing defeat at Stoke three days earlier, Arsene Wenger’s men knew they had to respond against Galatasaray - and they duly delivered.
Sure, it might have been a game with precious little riding on it in terms of qualification for the last 16, but make no mistake the Gunners were under a degree of pressure. Another defeat could have further eroded confidence ahead of the critical Christmas schedule, which will see them play six times over the next 22 days.
Instead, their coruscating first-half display - lit up by that Aaron Ramsey goal - has brought renewed positivity when it was needed most. “The dynamic in the first half looked dangerous going forward,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “We gave an opportunity to some young players as well and overall we’ve finished with 13 points.
“We have played eight Champions League games [this season]. We won five, drew two and have only lost one in Dortmund. The regret is Anderlecht at home. That cost us first place because we are level on points with Dortmund. Overall 13 points - when you look at how many some other teams qualified with - is a decent total.”
The trick is to now translate that European form to domestic duties. That starts with the visit of in-form Newcastle United on Saturday evening, but Wenger has some selection issues to deal with - particularly at the back.
The manager has confirmed that a calf problem has ruled Laurent Koscielny out of contention, while Nacho Monreal (foot) and Calum Chambers (suspended) will also miss out. That could mean Mathieu Debuchy switching to centre back after his successful return from an ankle injury in Istanbul.
"He prepared well and is a man who is very strong, very determined and he showed that in the game"
“He played like he has never been out,” Wenger said. “He prepared well and is a man who is very strong, very determined and he showed that in the game.”
Elsewhere, Ramsey (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (calf) and Theo Walcott (groin) have also been sidelined, with the manager recalling Francis Coquelin from his loan spell at Charlton Athletic to provide cover.
Wenger’s side have not scored in the first half of their last six Premier League matches, and the Frenchman is keen to see them break that cycle when they take on the Magpies.
“It’s not on purpose, it’s just because that’s the way the game is,” he said. “The most important thing is not when you want to win it, it’s when you win the game. It cost us against Manchester United, for example. We had many chances in the first half and didn’t score.
“That’s why it’s very important that we are tight defensively because we know we will score. The games where we didn’t score, we didn’t concede in the first hour and we won the game after.”
It has been quite some turnaround for Newcastle over the past few months. At the end of September, Alan Pardew’s side were still waiting for their first win of the season and were marooned in the relegation zone with three points from six games.
But after snatching a draw at Swansea City, their form took a dramatic turn for the better with seven successive wins in all competitions, including victories over Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham. But Newcastle saved their biggest scalp for last, ending Chelsea’s unbeaten record at St James’ Park last weekend.
"They have [really turned things around]. That’s down to the fact they didn’t give up and have kept their tenacity"
In Papiss Cisse they also have one of the Premier League’s form players, the Senegalese international scoring seven times from just 10 shots on target this season. Wenger has watched Newcastle’s resurgence with interest and is pleased that Pardew managed to deal with the early-season pressure and affect such change.
“You always want managers to keep their job when they’re competent,” he said. “He has dealt with the [criticism] very well, with dignity and strength.
“They have [really turned things around]. That’s down to the fact they didn’t give up and have kept their tenacity. That’s why they’ve done it and it’s always linked with injured players coming back.
“You don’t have to hide the secrets. They’ve had many injuries at the back and they paid for it for a while. Now they have found their defensive stability again.”
Besides the on-pitch intrigue, Saturday’s game is also noteworthy for being the club’s dedicated charity matchday, in support of the Arsenal Foundation.
The traditional annual fundraiser, which is now in its eighth year, will see Wenger and the first-team squad donate a day’s wages to the cause and encourage supporters to join in a range of fundraising activities on the day.
|Arsenal: Ozil (knee), Wilshere (ankle), Arteta (calf), Ospina (thigh), Walcott (groin), Monreal (ankle), Rosicky (thigh), Koscielny (calf), Ramsey (hamstring), Chambers (suspended)
Newcastle: Sissoko (suspended), Taylor (suspended)
“We are very proud of it,” Wenger said. “We give one day’s wages and I think it’s normal. Everybody does it and we going to continue to contribute to our charity. Arsenal is a club that is loved and respected all over the world for the quality of our football but also for our values that we show in our club traditionally. That’s one of the things we want to continue to do.”
The manager will also be keen for his side to continue their own resurgence. Forty-five minutes at the Britannia apart, their form over the past three weeks has given real cause for optimism and they will hope to maintain their fine recent record against Newcastle.
The Gunners have won the past five meetings between the two clubs. Make it six on Saturday, and it will bring a little bit of early Christmas cheer to the red half of north London.
“We have been consistent over the years against many teams,” Wenger concluded. “That’s why the numbers are like that. We’ll try to continue that record.
“They had a great result last week, they are doing well and they are on a good run. It will be a very interesting challenge for us. We have a good dynamic in our team, we won four of our last five games. We had one blip against Stoke but overall I think we are on a good trend.”
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