Arsenal vs Newcastle United: Match preview
Stadium: Emirates Stadium
Referee: Chris Foy
Kick-off: 11:00 PM (IST), Saturday, 29th of December
Fresh from their break on boxing day, Arsenal welcome the mentally exhausted Newcastle to the Emirates in very different circumstances to last year. The Magpies are hovering just above the relegation battle, while the Gunners sit in 7th place, with a game to spare; a win in which could comfortably take them to fourth. Last time out, the opponents were the Latics for Arsenal, and a penalty earned by Theo Walcott was the only difference between the two sides. Newcastle, on the other hand, were involved in a cruel 4 – 3 defeat at Old Trafford where the league leaders came from behind thrice, before finally scoring a winner. Not much of a contest, one might say, at least not in terms of freshness.
Arsenal: L W L W W
Last weekend, Arsenal resorted to their early season performance, scoring a clinical 1-0 win over Wigan, with some exemplary defending on display at times, quite contrary to their previous 7 goal entertainer against Reading. The most notable change, however, was Walcott starting up front in place of Giroud, and the Englishman did not fail to deliver. Thus, one can perhaps safely say that Arsenal have put their shocking loss to Bradford behind them, and are now fully focused on climbing up the league table. In spite of last weekend’s performance though, question marks will remain over Arsenal’s defence, and Vermaelen’s shaky form in particular, as the Belgian defender is absolutely vital to Arsenal’s hopes of keeping just their third clean sheet in eight games.
Newcastle United: L L L W L
It is hard to tell what Newcastle would have taken away from Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. While on the one hand there was a vastly improved attacking performance to their season average, that too on the back of an important win against QPR, on the other, they did concede more than what they scored. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Williamson collected his fifth yellow of the season to earn a one-game suspension, and will have to sit out against Arsenal. The list of misfortunes doesn’t end there, as Vurnon Anita is expected to miss the game as well, having been caught by Valencia deep into injury time at Old Trafford. However, Tiote is available to play for the Toon, and thus, we could see a return to a 4 – 4 – 2 for Alan Pardew’s men, with recent goalscorer Tiote joining Golden boot contender Ba up front. How they respond to their midweek disappointment could well go a long way in determining Newcastle’s fortunes for the second half of the season.
Arsenal: Andre Santos, Vassiriki Abou Diaby, Lukasz Fabianski, Ignasi Miquel.
Newcastle United: Jonas Gutierrez, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Vurnon Anita, Haris Vuckic, Dan Gosling, Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Mike Williamson.
Theo Walcott vs James Perch
The unsettled English winger has been quite keen on playing up front for Arsenal this season, and on the two occasions that he has done so thus far, garnered a goal and earned a penalty. Thus, James Perch, who was almost as surprised as anybody else at scoring his first Newcastle goal on boxing day, will have to keep his concentration for the full ninety minutes. Having been deployed in midfield fairly often recently, it will be a real test of Perch’s awareness, and tackling as anything short of perfection could let Walcott blaze past with his pace and cause all sorts of problems. All this if Walcott starts up front, of course.
Cheik Tiote vs Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta, with a league high average of 87 completed passes per game, has kept Arsenal’s game busy and ticking. Thus, it will be important for the Gunners to offer him cover against the returning Tiote, and Bigirimana, if he is to work his magic with the ball. It will be equally important, from Newcastle’s point of view, for Tiote to stop the Spaniard at all costs, and try to fashion a few chances with possession of the ball. After all, Papiss Cisse’s finish against Manchester United, and Demba Ba’s 11 league goals indicate he has two fine forwards in front of him, just waiting for good service.
A fight and a half from the Magpies. While it is true that a large chunk of their midfield is in the infirmary, and they have been poor this season, there was nothing about Newcastle’s midweek performance that suggested they were too much the worse for it. In fact, if they were playing against almost any other club, taking the lead thrice away from home would have been sufficient for at least one point, if not three. Arsenal, on the other hand, have been blowing hot and cold this season. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise then, if Newcastle break their four match losing league streak on the road at the Emirates.