Following on from Newcastle’s unbeaten start to the season, Saturday’s visitors Wigan pose a problem for Alan Pardew in terms of selection and formation. There have been calls for starts for Hatem Ben Arfa and Davide Santon, without it being obvious who if anyone should make way.
Wigan, currently in the bottom three, are a more difficult test than their league position suggests. A good run towards the end of last season, 20 points in 14 games from February, saw them climb out of the drop zone on the last day. That form extended over the whole season would have seen them finish comfortably in the top half. They’ve struggled to continue that form at the start of this season, finding it difficult to score goals so far. That might change following the return of Hugo Rodallega last week after a month out.
Last season Wigan were unfortunate to leave St James Park with only a point, conceding a late equaliser after dominating play for long periods. James McCarthy was particularly impressive in the centre of midfield as Newcastle’s pair in their 4-4-2 failed to get anywhere near Wigan’s 3 in the middle of the park in their 4-5-1. Wigan are a footballing side, pass the ball well, and numerical superiority in that area made it very difficult for Newcastle to achieve any effective possession of the ball.
Last week against Spurs Newcastle were always chasing the game, again with 2 central midfielders up against 3 when Van Der Vaart chose to drop in. It’s no coincidence that Newcastle scored their 2nd equaliser and then pushed on sufficiently to almost grab a winner after Spurs went to 4-4-2 and Newcastle to 4-5-1 following Defoe’s replacement of Van Der Vaart and Ben Arfa and Shola Ameobi coming on for Ba and Best.
The temptation against a side in trouble is to get as many strikers on the pitch as possible to ensure the goals come which will win the game. Wigan aren’t a standard struggling side however. They try to keep the ball and in that and their style of play more closely resemble Spurs than Stoke or Wolves. It’s essential that Newcastle get a fair share of possession or no number of strikers will help. This game seems an ideal opportunity to give Hatem Ben Arfa his first start in a year, bolstering midfield numbers while retaining an attacking outlook. That, in turn, would raise the question of whether Demba Ba is capable of leading the line on his own. It would be harsh for either he or Leon Best to lose their place, but with Ben Arfa and Ameobi changing the game last week one or both might well do so.