Arsenal v Newcastle
Kick off: December 13th, 2014 1730 GMT
It’s unclear whether it’s a problem with the referees’ criteria in England that allows stronger challenges than anywhere else or with the managers’ (plural) inability to cope with World Cup fatigue (probably it’s a bit of both) but a lot of teams in the Premiership have had injury problems. We have been title challengers in that area but Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle might give us a tough battle for that trophy. Arsenal remain the favourites according to the latest Paddy Power football betting odds.
I mentioned Newcastle so it’s no wonder that today’s match could be described as a clash of two hospitals. Arsenal have been decimated from the day one as Arsene Wenger couldn’t have sent the best eleven on the pitch since the start of the season (in my book, our Best XI are: Szczesny-Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs-Arteta, Ramsey-Walcott, Özil, Alexis-Giroud) but now we face in-form Newcastle with the worst injury crisis in years. Our defence and midfield look like they’d just returned home from the battlefield. Laurent Koscielny has spent too many time on the sidelines this term (hence our poor defensive record), Nacho Monreal is out and Calum Chambers is suspended. Things don’t look much better in the midfield: Mikel Arteta is injured, Jack Wilshere won’t be back before February, Mesut Özil is still not available, Tomas Rosicky has injury problems, Abou Diaby is injured and the Istanbul hero Aaron Ramsey is our newest casualty – his hamstring will keep him off the pitch for a month.
It’s not a consolation for us that our opponents have injury problems of their own – Alan Pardew will have to use his third-choice goalkeeper Jak Alwick today as both Tim Krul and Rob Elliot are out. It doesn’t mean we’ll have an easy ride because of that – Alwick made a really good cameo against Chelsea last week and kept a clean sheet against the leaders. He might see Fabricio Coloccini in front of him after all – the Argentinian has been a doubt for today’s match but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play, especially given that both Taylors are out for the game. David Santon is also out. Our left side of the defence will have to keep an eye on Daryl Janmaat however. The Dutchman played an excellent game against Chelsea last week and can cause a lot of trouble for us.
Their midfield is led by the foul-maker Cheick Tiote. The Ivorian – who scored that goal in our 4:4 draw at St James Park – might cause another injury problem to us with his tackling. Remy Cabella is an Arsenal-esque player though – a pint-sized artist who can pass and score. He hasn’t had the best campaign – just two assists to his name so far – but he has quality. The absence of Moussa Sissoko is a big blow for The Magpies though. The midfielder has collected five yellow cards and his goal-scoring ability will be missed today.
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The opponents’ attack is led by Papiss Cisse. The Senegalese striker has rediscovered his mojo that looked lost since 2012. He has scored seven goals this term – including two against Chelsea last week – and will be the biggest danger to us today. He is skillful, pacey and capable of producing magical goals. Now, he has distributed his seven goals over just four matches which means he is yet to find consistency. Still, the fact he has scored the last three Newcastle goals in the league should be taken into account. (Rather pointless trivia: whenever Cisse scored this term, he was the only goal-scorer for Newcastle.) Ayoze Perez is an interesting lad. He has scored three goals this term and it happened in three consecutive matches (Spuds, Liverpool, West Brom). He has gone through a goal-drought lately.
Now, what can Arsene Wenger throw at Newcastle?
Wojciech Szczesny returns in the league after that match against Manchester United. He hasn’t been at his best this term but today he’ll have a huge responsibility given that Per Mertesacker is the only senior central defender that is available for the match. Mathieu Debuchy will probably play next to Mertesacker in the heart of defence. Hector Bellerin down the right flank and Kieran Gibbs down the left will have to protect the first-time partnership of Mertesacker and Debuchy. Mathieu Flamini will get a new partner in the midfield – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will replace Aaron Ramsey. Alexis might switch to right flank with Danny Welbeck attacking down the left. Santi Cazorla will return to the hole with Olivier Giroud – who has collected nice memories against Newcastle as he has scored four goals in four matches against The Magpies – being the main striker. Francis Coquelin has been recalled from loan but I highly doubt he would be used straight away in the first eleven. There is also an option that the revamped Lukas Podolski might get a nod due to his excellent performance in Istanbul.
It’s going to be a difficult match, more difficult than the one in Istanbul, but in a high-scoring game Arsenal should come out on top. So, it’s going to be 5:3 for us with goals from Giroud (he’ll score two), Alexis, Welbeck and Podolski (one goal each) while Cisse (two) and Goufran (one) will make the score-line a little less ugly for The Magpies.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 29 Apr 2014 Arsenal FC 3 – Newcastle 0
Premier League (EPL) 29 Dec 2013 Newcastle 0 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 19 May 2013 Newcastle 0– Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 29 Dec 2012 Arsenal FC 7 – Newcastle 3
Premier League (EPL) 12 Mar 2012 Arsenal FC 2 – Newcastle 1
Bellerin Debuchy Mertesacker (c) Gibbs
Alexis Cazorla Welbeck
Arsenal 5 v 3 Newcastle