Match preview by Minty Fresh, click here to go the our match discussion thread
Newcastle United welcome Arsenal to St James’ Park tomorrow, a year to the day after shipping seven goals in the reverse fixture of the 2012/13 season. Both sides have seen an upturn in fortunes since that encounter; Newcastle are once again looking for a place in Europe after a season of struggling against relegation, whilst Arsenal have developed into serious contenders for the Premier League title.
Although the general consensus is that Arsenal are favourites for this match, the form table suggests otherwise. Newcastle sit in second place behind Manchester City, having only dropped four points in the last six games. Meanwhile Arsenal have fallen to 6th. Despite securing convincing victories against Hull, Cardiff and West Ham, they’ve had some trouble with those higher up the table, picking up just 2 points from games with Everton, Man City and Chelsea.
Alan Pardew has one major selection headache coming into this match, with Cheick Tioté returning from a one match ban. Despite winning comfortably last match against Stoke, Newcastle looked disinterested and disjointed up until a mad five minute period in which the away side had two men sent off. The defence were clearly more exposed in the absence of Tioté, and Moussa Sissoko struggled to have any positive impact on the game after moving back into a central midfield role.
It seems like a no-brainer for the Ivorian, who is currently battling it out with Debuchy to be the highest performer in the ToonForum Index, to return to the starting eleven. However, the decision over who loses their place will be a bit more problematic for Pardew. Sissoko and Ben Arfa are the most likely candidates to make way in spite of them both having recently put in excellent performances on the right wing.
One player who particularly stood out in last year’s ten goal thriller was Theo Walcott, getting three goals and two assists. Walcott has an exceptional scoring record against Newcastle, so his return to fitness and form will be a worry for Pardew. A return to top form for left-back Davide Santon would be extremely timely as this may well be the toughest challenge he has faced this season.
This Arsenal side are probably the best team to visit St James’ Park this season, but Newcastle haven’t lost at home since mid-September and have proved that they’re capable of outplaying even the top sides on their day. With the partnership of Coloccini and Williamson looking as strong as ever, and Yoan Gouffran on a hot streak at home, the hosts will go into this believing they’ve got a good chance of getting at least a point. Even if they end up 4-0 down at half-time, there may still be a glimmer of hope… Continue reading