The only thing that stands between Arsenal and victory at Newcastle today (Saturday) are the wiles of Rafa Benitez.
A man managing far below his high level, Benitez has the nous and knowhow to exploit the weaknesses that remain within this fledgling Arsenal side.
There have been improvements in Unai Emery’s Gunners, no doubt, but the frailties within the setup mean there are ways in which clever managers can get some joy and, barring a miraculous turnaround on Arsenal’s part, will probably be in evidence again today.
The Gunners’ firepower means it will be a fiercely difficult task for the Magpies to get anything from the clash, but there remains hope for them at the other end of the pitch, particularly in the full-back areas.
The former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager would not have been blind to the success other teams have found in those areas this season, particularly from fast breaks.
Emery is working hard with his side to introduce a high-pressing game that is played primarily in the opponent’s half but it is no simple task to change a culture at a club and it will need the greater part of a season for new behaviours to be ingrained.
Until then, there will be lapses in concentration and errors in shape and positioning which managers of Benitez’s calibre are capable of spotting and coaching to exploit.
Execution of his plan is another matter, of course, so Arsenal must find a way of nullifying their own shortcomings by pressing the case at the other end. In this case, attack is going to be the best form of defence.
The hosts will doubtless press hard and high in the first half so the way the Gunners handle that pressure could prove decisive.
The general consensus among fans is that, if he is fit, Lucas Torreira must start in place of Matteo Guendouzi and I would be hard pressed to disagree. That aside, I don’t see any great need to change a team that has picked up wins against Cardiff and West Ham.
The only other change I would ponder would be Stefan Liechsteiner in for Hector Bellerin. The Swiss’ style and experience could be the difference in a game where controlling the wide areas could be key.
The scars of last season, and the team’s horrendous away form, linger on in the minds of many fans and, although confident we can get a result, there is an element of doubt when this team travels. Only progress on the pitch will expunge those bad memories and let’s hope the baby steps we have taken to date continue.
We are squarely in the midst of a run of games that we are capable of taking big points from and any slip ups now, although still early in the season, could prove costly to our longer-term ambitions.
Points in the bag breed confidence and belief and trust in our new system so it is important we keep our momentum going.
It is going to be physical and it is going to be niggly but Arsenal have the tools with which to get a result. Let’s hope that Benitez and his whiles are still returning from the international break.