Arsenal

v

Newcastle United

The Emirates Stadium, North London

17:30 Hrs GMT, 29th Dec 2012

****

18 out of 20 teams played in midweek, the only two teams who were supposed to play in London on the 26th of December, were Arsenal and West Ham. Due to the tube strike in the city, the game was postponed to either of January 23 or 26. The no-show in midweek means Arsenal get more days of rest to prepare for their home fixture against the Magpies, while their opponents were involved in the Match of the Day against league leaders Manchester United. Newcastle went ahead thrice in the game but eventually lost to the Red Devils 3-4 in a tightly contested game, a factor quite beneficial to the Gunners.

Arsenal have had a mixed season so far, trying to bring in some consistency into their game with a fairly new look midfield and attacking contingent. Jack Wilshere, the most charismatic of the attacking line-up spent an entire season in the medical room, so when he started his first game this season, he was essentially playing with a completely new set of players in the middle of the park and even ahead of him. It takes time for the team to settle down but there is this impatience among fans to win trophies, something that has eluded them for around seven years now. If the fans and players can have faith in the system, then this team, no doubting their quality, can become a force to reckon with, in years to come.

With Newcastle having won just one of the last ten Premier League games against Arsenal, there is even more pressure to perform better than previous occasions. The Magpies played a very tiring game against Manchester United where their confidence took a beating as a Javier Hernandez goal snatched away all three points from them. Since Arsenal didn’t play midweek, Newcastle might have to field a similar side again against a relatively fresh Gunners’ team.

Team News

Arsenal

Having not lost a league game in the three previous outing, the Gunners are finally on a run of wins, something they badly need to start cementing their place in the top four. As it stands, Spurs and Everton are still above them in the race for the fourth spot in the league, with a few teams not far behind. Based on the form of top teams this season, the league is still quite open, but the Gunners need to first concentrate on their own results rather than hoping for other teams to drop points.

If Olivier Giroud is completely fit, he is sure to start up front sending a quick message to Theo Walcott that he is simply not good enough to play as a lone striker, something that he should be aware of. If Giroud starts, it means a push to the wings for Theo, and a start from the bench for in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Based on the contract situation of Theo, it is almost certain that Arsene won’t take a risk of dropping him to the bench and let the younger Englishman start ahead of him. Lukas Podolski, who played a decent game last time around, will flank the wings on the left, quite capable of scoring goals himself too.

The Spanish duo will guard the midfield, and in the absence of some crucial names in the Newcastle midfield, they will find their task relatively easier. Jack Wilshere will continue with his development this season alongside Arteta and Cazorla, trying to form a dream midfield. There has been news about Diaby coming back to practise, which means the Frenchman might see some action after all in the first month of the new year. Rosicky was reported ill in the last game, so he will start from the bench, a creative spark whenever needed.

The defensive lineup looks quite settled now with no new injuries. Considering Steve Bould is working with them more than ever, the team is expected to memorize the famous “Offside Trap” very well – the system started by George Graham many years back of which Bould was an important part. Gibbs and Sagna will provide the usual burst on the wings, the Englishman getting better with every game while the Frenchman is his usual 100% committed self! 

Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere; Cazorla, Theo, Podolski; Giroud

Newcastle United

After an intense game with Manchester United, it remains to be seen how much is left in the tank for the players to come back all guns blazing in yet another away tie at North London. In the absence of some big names like Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Tiote in the middle of the park, Alan Pardew has found it quite difficult to match the quality against teams like Manchester City and Manchester United. Things won’t be any different against Arsenal.

Seven defeats in nine Premier League games now means the Magpies sit uncomfortably in 15th place, though the squad has enough quality to be competing for at least European football. The absence of key players is a major thorn towards achieving that goal. Newcastle United really need to put behind a disappointing result, take positives out of the game and start afresh against the Gunners. If one can remember the Andy Carroll goal that gave Newcastle United all three points against Arsenal a few years back, one would know that Arsenal can be beaten by frustrating them and then hitting them on counters.

The big relief for Pardew will be the return of Tiote, who has served his ban, and is available for the trip to Arsenal. Cabaye and Ben Arfa, the two creative outlets in the team, stays out with injuries. Jonas Gutierrez and Vurnon Anita are out with leg injuries too. From the resources available, Pardew has enough firepower upfront capable of unsettling any defense in England. Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse are two strikers any team in the league would love to have. In fact, Demba Ba has shown some interest in joining the Gunners in the January transfer window. This game can be an important one for him if he wants to impress the Arsenal boss.

Possible Starting Line-Up (4-4-2) – Krul; Perch, Simpson, Coloccini, Santon; Amalfitano, Obertan, Marveaux, Bigirimana; Cisse, Ba

Key Facts

  1. The Gunners haven’t won back to back Premier League games at home since April.
  2. Newcastle have played the highest proportion of long passes this season (17%), Arsenal the second lowest (8%).
  3. The last time Newcastle had fewer points after 19 games in the top-flight was 1988-89 (17).
  4. Arsenal have made 11 errors leading directly to goals, more than any other side. [Facts via @EuroSport.Yahoo.Com]

Player(s) To Watch Out For

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

The “leader of the pack” – the one player who is understandably the true leader among the five who signed the fresh new contract at the club is Jack Wilshere. His commitment and dedication to Arsenal is second to none in the side. He is ready to get all dirty for the club in every game he plays. He is slowly getting back into full form and the fans and players will hope he can stay fit till the end of the season being the most important ingredient in this Arsenal system.

Demba Ba (Newcastle)

Demba Ba has been in phenomenal form for the Magpies since he joined them in 2011. He has netted 27 times for them so far and looks to improve with every passing game. It has now become even more important for Pardew to secure the services of the Senegalese in the long term. It will be a great battle between Demba Ba and Per Mertesacker as long as it is a face-to-face duel and there is no sprinting involved because the German won’t ever beat anybody in that department.

Prediction

Arsenal 3-1 Newcastle

After a fresh gameless week, it will be a slightly easier task for the Gunners against relatively tired legs. The match will be a high tempo game with both teams cancelling each other till half time. In the second half, Arsenal will be a better and fitter side than the Magpies, who might have to slip down further in the league table.

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