Ahead of Arsenal's visit to St. James' Park this weekend, we were able to sit down with SBN's excellent Arsenal blog The Short Fuse to do a question and answer exchange to preview the match. Our answers to their questions can be found here while their answers follow.
CHN: Much like ourselves, Arsenal have spent significant amounts of time atop the Physioroom.com injury charts. We went out and hired Mr. Muscle to try to stem the injury tide at SJP. What changes have you guys made to try to accomplish the same and do they look destined for success?
TSF: The Arsenal Injury Crisis was an ongoing thing that reached its apex (zenith?) early last season, which saw five regular starters out for several months at the start of the season with serious injuries. But even prior to that, as you note, Arsenal were a very crocked team and had been for a while. Like most teams, Arsenal are very tight lipped about their training and fitness regimens, so we don't really know what was going on, but prior to last season Arsenal hired Shad Forsythe, who had previously worked with the German national team, as "Head of athletic performance enhancement".
I am an outsider, I have neither specific knowledge of Arsenal's methods pre- and post-Shad nor any medical training whatsoever, and it's only been just over a season since Forsythe was brought on, so I can't sit here and tell you that it's working, or that specific things have improved in specific ways. I do know, however, that this area has been very much an area of concern for Arsenal, and they're very confident they got the right guy as a replacement.
CHN: In a related vein, it looks like you may be without starting CB partnership Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. What is the likelihood that both miss out on the trip to Newcastle this weekend and how confident are you in their replacements?
TSF: As of this writing, Thursday morning, it's pretty much nailed on that Mertesacker is out; Kos has a late fitness test but is still a doubt. Do I have confidence in their replacements? Uh, sort of, but not much, particularly when they play together. Calum Chambers has been bafflingly mediocre-to-bad in his time at Arsenal, last week against Liverpool being more on the "bad" side of the spectrum, and Gabriel is another in that "eh, he's OK" vein. Either way, it's a pretty serious drop from Mertescielny, which has been one of the best defensive pairings in the Premier League over the last couple seasons.
CHN: Would Newcastle be better off to set up attacking the wings or the middle if they want to take something from the match this weekend?
TSF: Given my answer to the previous question, the answer to this question is to, as one of our other writers put it, "attack the creamy filling at the center". With Chambers and Gabriel being...not great, that forces Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin to effectively play two roles, one of which is babysitter. That opens up a whole lot of real estate in the center of the pitch.
CHN: There seems to be an inordinate amount of hand wringing league wide about the table after three weeks. Has the Arsenal fan base been experiencing the same? Do you feel that any such concerns are valid this early in the season?
TSF: Arsenal fans will engage in violent, angry hand wringing and blame assigning for days if the Arsenal cafeteria decided to switch from Coke to Pepsi, so I guess the easy answer is "yes they do". But the real answer is a bit more nuanced. It's not so much about the table right now - three games is waaaaaaay too small of a sample size to draw a conclusion - as it is about the fact that Arsenal have, yet again, stumbled out of the gate and not gotten off to the type of commanding start that off-season expectations would have suggested. Why is that? I have no idea, but it's been a problem that has bedeviled Arsenal for a few seasons now. Arsenal are a good team, they'll turn their form around soon enough, but it'd be nice to be able to look back at 19 teams instead of looking up at several when they do.
So, to answer your question: Not concerned about the table this early, but mildly concerned about the form that contributes to that table.
CHN: Newcastle were rumored to be in for Olivier Giroud when he joined Arsenal. It seems that all Arsenal fans have done since that time is complain about him. From the outside, it looks like he's done the job since heading to London. What's the deal?
TSF: See previous answer re: Coke vs. Pepsi. One of the things I hate most about sports, and about soccer in particular, is the throwing about of meaningless words as if they measured something; one of the loudest critiques of Olivier Giroud is that he's not "world class".
I will now wait patiently as someone provides me a conclusive, unanimous, empirical definition of "world class".
Okay, now that I've waited and come up empty, I will say this: Olivier Giroud, as well as being a total dreamboat with majestic hair, is one hell of a striker. He has indeed "done the job" - he just hasn't done said job often enough or consistently enough for many peoples' liking. I am not one of those people - I think Giroud is very, very good and I'm pretty happy with him up top.
Are there better forwards in the game? Sure there are. But Olivier Giroud is not even close to being Arsenal's weak spot, and wanting to discard a striker that scores, on average, 13 goals a season is kind of dumb. To me, you augment Giroud, not replace him - Arsenal have tried that with Danny Welbeck, but so far that hasn't worked out as well as we would have hoped after one season.
CHN: Obligatory match prediction question.
TSF: I'm really, really bad at these, and Arsenal's early season form doesn't help. As much as I don't want to say it, this game has "tense 2-2 after an early 1-0 Newcastle lead" written all over it.