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Arteta has some decisions to make for tricky but crucial Newcastle showdown…

But why?

The morning after the night before is usually a phrase related to having consumed a tad too much alcohol, but most Arsenal fans will relate today, whether they drank through Thursday night’s disappointment or not.

Arsenal needed a win at the home of their fierce local rivals to secure Champion’s League football, and as we all know they failed to secure that victory. Worse still was a truly demoralising defeat which handed the momentum in the race to the top 4, to Spurs. Or did it?

Firstly, what went so badly wrong, when Arteta’s team were on a confident winning streak that had taken them into a strong position? Well, here is my own take:

Without hindsight, Tomiyasu, one of the strongest right backs in the league this season should have started in that role. The form and threat of Son was always likely to be a decisive factor and despite his sterling efforts in recent weeks, Cedric was not the right selection.
I would rather have seen Cedric on the left as Kulusevski is a left footer who tends to cut in, which a right footed left back could potentially have coped with.
Perhaps given Ben White’s apparent lack of readiness, a back three with Tomiyasu joining Holding and Gabriel, might have made Arsenal more secure? Certainly, I am surprised this option was not considered early in the match.
In the first half, when it became obvious that Rob Holding was walking a disciplinary tightrope, Arteta needed to pull the player to the touch line and give him a proper dressing down, or perhaps even substituted him. After all, he has shown he is willing to do so with Tavares on more than one occasion. For a player of his experience, I was hugely disappointed with Holding.

Holding holding

Secondly, how do Arsenal and crucially the manager and players respond before Monday’s now must-win trip to Newcastle?

Of course, much will depend on the fitness and availability of White, (we must assume 4 further days will be enough,) and Gabriel, who limped off. If both are fit, they must be reunited at the heart of the Arsenal defence. If either are not likely to be ready, with Holding suspended, rather than draft in a youngster to such a high-pressure match, I hope Arteta will be already working on the train pitch today, with Tomiyasu partnering White. The Japanese international plays centrally for his country, so the switch is not an issue but he needs to train with whoever he will partner, if this needs to be the case.
Despite last night’s display, I would be reluctant to move Xhaka to the defence and to break up the experienced partnership he has with Elneny, as old heads will be required at St James.
The injuries and suspensions make the temptation to change the system to a back 3 unlikely but I would like to see the 4141 tweaked back to the conventional 4231 with Xhaka less advanced and playing closer to Elneny for a solid platform om Monday. Newcastle may be partly ‘on the beach’ but it is their last home match, and they will want to send their faithful away happy.
In the front 4, I would be tempted to leave it as Martinelli, Odegaard and Saka behind Nketiah – but there must be a temptation to use a fresh Smith Rowe. It is so hard for Arteta to leave out the Brazilian firebrand, who is a threat. Certainly, Krafth standing in for Trippier will not be able to deal with Martinelli so I hope Arteta instructs the team to play to the left, to surprise Howe, who might expect Odegaard and Saka to be the go-to attacking channel.

White

In the next 4 days Arteta needs to prove he is the motivator most of us believe he is, and he has to lift the spirits of his squad. Not only that but he simply MUST spend time addressing the discipline of his team which has been an Achilles heel for Arsenal so often. Finally, he needs to select the right players in the right positions to win 2 matches, because our European fate, whatever the media suggest, is still firmly in our hands.

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