NEWCASTLE UNITED FC

v

ARSENAL FC

St.James Park, Newcastle

February 5, 2011, 08:30 PM IST (15:00 B.S.T)

***

After contrasting results in the midweek fixtures for both sides, the Toons and the Gunners square off against each other at St. James Park. The Gunners were outdone by an Andy Carroll header and a resolute Newcastle defense in the home fixture, and will be looking for revenge in this game. Considering their away form so far this season and the departure of Carroll to Liverpool,  the money is on the Gunners to nick this one, but football is a strange game and anything can happen in this match.

After a bright start to the new year, Newcastle could only nick two points in the last three games. They came close to winning against Sunderland and Tottenham, but failed to defend their lead in both the matches, conceding a goal in the last few minutes of each game. In the midweek game, they were undone by former Toon player Damien Duff, who scored his first goal in nearly a year. The departure of Carroll is certain to leave a void in the striker’s department, but they have decent replacements in Leon Best and Shola Amoebi, not to mention the energetic Kevin Nolan and the much-maligned Joey Barton pulling the strings in midfield. Alan Pardew has a history with Arsene Wenger from his West Ham and Charlton days, and the Tyneside manager will look to gain the upper hand over the Frenchman in this encounter.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are in the running for all the four trophies; a Carling Cup final with Birmingham City, a progress to the fifth round of FA Cup, second in the league table and a Champions league date with Barcelona in a fortnight define the current scenario that the Gunners find themselves in, which is quite a feat for Wenger’s lads. They continued their fine run in the premier league with a comeback victory over a resolute Everton side, with Arshavin and Koscielny fetching their side three valuable points to keep up the pressure on Manchester United. However, a spate of injuries to their key players have got Gooners anxious about a repeat of last season, where untimely injuries derailed Arsenal’s hopes for the umpteenth time. They will be praying for van Persie and Cesc to remain fit for the next two months, where Arsenal have a flurry of critical fixtures to contend with. Fabregas has come under criticism from different quarters regarding his arrogance and attitude, but his presence on the field has been the sole reason Arsenal are firing on all cylinders.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Newcastle United

For some inexplicable reason, Mike Ashley has decided to let Newcastle’s best player Carroll leave the club at such a crucial juncture of the season; but then, the sacking of Chris Hughton should serve as a reminder of the Tyneside club’s owner’s fickle nature. In the absence of their number 9, Shola Amoebi was handed the burden of leading the line. However, he suffered a fractured cheekbone in the Fulham game, adding to Newcastle’s injury list, which also includes Steven Taylor, Dan Gosling, Hatim Ben Arfa and Stephen Ireland(on loan from Aston Villa). Amoebi was impressive against Liverpool, winning aerial battles against the likes of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel; Leon Best will find a very huge weight on his shoulders. The home side will have to rely on the midfield trio of Nolan, Barton and Gutierrez to deliver the goods for them.

Will the big man be missed?

With the team down to the bare bones, Pardew will field a five-man midfield to counter Arsenal’s fluid movements on the field. Chieck Tiote delivered a commanding performance in the last game between the two sides, and he will be expected to keep Fabregas in check. Barton and Nevas are expected to make forays into the Arsenal area to provide assists to team mates and at the same time help the fullbacks handle Arsenal’s flank. With Arshavin returning to form, and van Persie being his belligerent self upfront, the Newcastle defense will be hard pressed to contain both talented players. Arsenal’s susceptibility against long balls will be exploited by the home side, and either Leon Best and the pacy Nile Ranger  could keep Djourou and Koscielny busy; set-pieces are another area where they can also hope to add to the goals tally.

Probable Starting XI: Harper, Enrique, Coloccini, Williamson, Perch, Tiote, Nolan, Barton, Guthrie,  Gutierrez, Best.

Arsenal

When it looked like Arsenal’s injury jinx was finally done away with this season, with the exception of Vermaelen, they were dealt a severe blow in the new year; it started when Nasri and Denilson pulled their hamstrings in the FA Cup tie against Huddersfield town, and was followed by knocks to Alex Song and Theo Walcott in a very physical encounter against Everton. Fabianski is ruled out for the rest of the season, and will have his shoulder operated in Germany. Although Arsenal have a replacements for most of the departments, they have not been able to come up to the same level as the first choice players, as evinced from the woeful performances against Leeds, Ipswich and Huddersfield, which is a big cause for concern for Arsenal fans. However, with the timely return of Arshavin to his old self and Nicklas Bendtner finding his shooting boots, the visitors have adequate cover in the front line. Their main concern will be Jack Wilshere’s partner in the midfield, for no other player is capable of doing what Song has achieved.

The Russian magician returns

Theo Walcott has been cleared to play according to Wenger, but is likely to start from the bench; this gives Nicklas Bendtner the chance to prove his worth, and he is capable of delivering good crosses like the one against Leeds. With Nasri out for 21 days, the vacant spot will be contested between Rosicky and Arshavin, and the latter is likely to be picked on the basis of his recent formations. Wilshere and Diaby have their task cut out against Nolan and Barton, both of whom are capable of changing the course of the game. The Newcastle captain has been inspirational for his side, and Wilshere needs to keep a tight leash on him. Djourou and Koscielny have developed a great understanding, having let in only one goal in the last five league games; along with Arsenal’s new number 1 Szczesny, they will be looking to keep yet another clean sheet.

Probable Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Wilshere, Diaby, Fabregas, Arshavin, Bendtner, Van Persie.


Football Fans Know Better

Key Facts

1. Newcastle have won just two of their last sixteen games against Arsenal
2. Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan have accounted for 21 of the 36 goals scored by the Toons.
3. Clichy and Diaby could make their 250th and 150th appearance for Arsenal respectively.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)

The captain has been the most influential player for the Magpies, alongside Carroll. Even with the big striker’s move to Liverpool, Arsenal would do well to prevent the midfielder from providing assists or scoring his trademark goals in set piece scrambles.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Newcastle United 1-3 Arsenal

Although Newcastle will be a tough proposition at home, Arsenal have their main players in fine nick at the moment and will continue to boost their track record in the away games this season.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST