Preview: Newcastle Utd vs Arsenal – 29/12/13

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…

My prediction: 2-2

Team News

NUFC: No fresh injury problems and Cheick Tioté is available again after suspension. Moussa Sissoko remains one yellow card away from a one game ban, although the threshold for a ban rises to 10 in the new year.

Possible line up:

<debuchy> <willo> <colo> <santon>
<tiote> <anita>
<sissoko> <cabaye> <gouff>

AFC: Jack Wilshere is available again following suspension but Laurent Koscielny is a doubt and Aaron Ramsey will miss out with a thigh injury.

Possible line up:

Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs
Flamini – Arteta
Walcott – Özil – Wilshere

Pre Match Comments

Alan Pardew:

I’d like to think that we’ll run them close and if we can beat them then we’ll have to seriously look at our aspirations for the year because we’ve obviously beaten some good teams leading up to this. Arsenal have been the best team this season, I don’t think anyone will argue with that. It will certainly tell us a lot about how good we are if we can beat them, especially after the result against Stoke.

They had a terrific result against West Ham and if you can beat one of the top teams like Arsenal, it’s really going to put us in good shape at the top of the league. It would tick a big box for us, but having said that, if we lose the game, that wouldn’t dampen our aspirations either. I’d like to think the game is going to be an even one, but they are the type of team that can unravel you. We need to be on our guard about that, but we will also going out there trying to make sure we win the game.

Arsene Wenger:

Newcastle are in full confidence, they are doing well and won again on Boxing Day with a big score. Loic Remy is a very good striker, very quick and makes very good runs, so we have to keep him quiet. That will all be another test, but our team wants to do well, the character is great and our concentration is top. We have a very short time to prepare, but maybe we can rotate a little bit as well.

I rested (Santi) Cazorla for a few games and you could see against West Ham he had an outstanding game and what a difference that makes when the player is fresh. Obviously it will be a tough game, but Newcastle will always give you a good match. It will be very interesting, I love these kind of games, so I am very much looking forward to playing them.

Facts and Stats

– Newcastle have conceded a total of 14 goals in their last five Premier League games against Arsenal.
– Arsenal have lost only one of their last 17 final games of the year (0-1 to Sheffield United in 2006).
– Arsenal have won the most Premier League points in 2013, and their current 79 point tally in the year cannot be surpassed by any other side.
– Yoan Gouffran has scored in 5 consecutive games at St James’ Park.
– Arsenal have lost just one of their last 12 Barclays Premier League games at St James Park.
– Newcastle have scored first in their last three matches against top-six teams.

Where to Watch/Listen

Tickets have sold out, as expected.

Television coverage begins at 12:30pm on Sky Sports 1. Radio commentary will be provided by BBC Newcastle and talkSPORT.

Can Newcastle continue their trend of taking points off the big boys, or are we in for another spanking similar to the City match? Have your say in our match discussion thread here.

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