Olivier Giroud has been passed fully fit and is available for selection but contract rebel Theo Walcott has been performing well in his desire position as the central forward spear-heading the North Londoners’ attack.
Wenger now has to decide whether to stick or twist – Arsenal have won their last 3 Premier League games, two of which saw Walcott play as a centre-forward instead of on the wing as he has previously.
Captain Thomas Vermaelen outlined after his side’s 5-2 victory at Reading the ability of Walcott to create valuable space for the midfield trio of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta to operate in with his threatening pace.
The opposing defence are forced to play deeper to avoid dangerous through-balls to the Englishman, proving an effective way to unleash their creative midfield nucleus and stretching the play.
However, Olivier Giroud’s return to full fitness may see Walcott revert back to his position on the right flank – the Frenchman offers a more cumbersome aerial threat in attack and undoubtedly holds the ball up more effectively for the Gunners.
Against a team like Newcastle who possess a greater physical threat going forward, Giroud’s presence defending set-pieces could make him worth his weight in gold to the team. Equally, their central defenders Fabricio Coloccini and the returning Steven Taylor are competent and intelligent – they are unlikely to let Walcott turn and run through one-on one with the keeper.
Arsenal will likely be in for a scrap as Newcastle’s 4-3 defeat at Manchester United demonstrated the power and class they have in attack – the sometimes-comatose Arsenal defence will undoubtedly have their work cut out for them on Saturday.
The Gunners will likely dominate possession in midfield but they’ll need to be clinical in the final third and Walcott is certainly in better form than the Frenchman this season. However, Wenger will need to use his wide men and Walcott’s pace on the flank along with Lukas Podolski’s quality and industry could prove to be match winning – and they’ll need a target to aim for in the box.
I think Wenger will play Giroud through the middle with Walcott and Podolski either side – he’ll instruct the wide-men to dart in-field when possible and Giroud’s movement and positioning off the ball will ensure they have a body to aim at.
They’ll use the wide-men to stretch the play, instead of the Walcott’s pace but they’ll have to be careful with their high line in defence as Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse will punish them if they get caught out with long balls over the top.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald