The Spaniard has been impeccable anchoring the Gunners’ midfield trio this term, protecting the defence and playing out from the back.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger sold defensive midfielder Alex Song to Barcelona last summer and opted not to replace him – at present young Francis Coquelin is the North Londoners’ only recognized defensive midfielder in the squad.
However, Arsenal do have Jack Wilshere who, despite his imminent requirement for ankle surgery this summer, did make it off the bench in midweek for Arsenal’s 4-1 victory over Wigan at the Emirates.
Arsenal’s fate is in their own hands as they look to gain a Champions League place next season – the Gunners must take all three points from the Magpies this weekend to ensure qualification ahead of North London rivals Tottenham who face the Magpies North East rivals Sunderland.
With so much at stake and no margin for error, Arsenal need to ensure they replace the vice-captain with someone who possesses his calmness and determination in midfield.
Given Wilshere’s perpetual injury woes, the boss may well opt to bring Aaron Ramsey back into Arteta’s holding position but, despite some very strong performances recently and a goal in midweek, Ramsey is not really suitable for the position.
Wilshere is – he has featured for Arsenal as the most defensive of their midfield before – but Arsene Wenger needs to be positive whoever he deploys there can put in a shift and will have their mind on the game. Wilshere will always give 100% commitment to the team but his lack of match fitness may prove to be an issue, especially in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Arsenal cannot afford to take any chances defensively and Wenger will likely opt to play centre-back pairing Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker who have only been on the losing team as a unit on one occasion this season.
With that in mind, perhaps Wenger might consider bringing captain Thomas Vermaelen back into the team – as a defensive midfielder. I have written previously this term about the similarities between the Gunners’ skipper and Chelsea defender David Luiz who has been deployed in midfield this term under Rafael Benitez.
It would be the most defensive-minded option Wenger could choose.
I actually believe Coquelin could go out and do a decent job there too. He has performed well when he has made it on to the pitch and has undoubtedly improved in the last year but it would be a risky move for such an important fixture – he’s still vastly inexperienced and hasn’t played since Arsenal were knocked out of the FA Cup months ago.
If Wenger decides to pick Wilshere he not only takes a risk with the player’s fitness but he also takes the risk that Wilshere is not physically or technically ideally suited to that position.
Newcastle are a physical side and Arsenal will need a presence of stature in the middle of the park – despite Arteta’s slight frame he’s not shy of throwing his weight around and doing the dirty work. Wilshere could adopt that approach but his tackling has been on occasion a little over-zealous. The last thing Arsenal need is to be reduced to 10 men.
If I were Wenger, I’d bring the captain back in and play him as a midfielder but I suspect that won’t be the boss’ choice. I would imagine he’ll bring Santi Cazorla back into the middle as the attacking midfielder with Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere in behind him, Tomas Rosicky on the bench and Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and the returning Oliver Giroud as the forward trio.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald