Arsenal travel to Newcastle on Sunday with both teams heading into the fixture with wins on their respective Boxing Day clashes. The Magpies come into the game after beating Stoke City 5-1, continuing the good form they have shown in recent weeks. The Gunners came back from 1-0 down to beat West Ham 3-1, putting an end to a spell of three games without a win. When the fixture list came out at the beginning of the summer, Arsenal would not have envisioned that the prospect of playing Newcastle would be such a tough one. Newcastle’s great form has surprised many, and has been helped by the team not having to play any European football this season. The Toons’ January signings have also settled in, helping them to their strong league position.
Newcastle will welcome Cheick Tiote back into the squad after he served a one game suspension for five yellow cards in the last game against Stoke. Newcastle’s only injuries are long term ones in Ryan Taylor (Knee) and Jonas Gutierrez (Calf), both of whom have no return dates set. The Gunners should welcome Jack Wilshere back into the squad after serving a two game suspension after a misdemeanour at the Etihad Stadium during the fixture with Manchester City. Defender Laurent Koscielny faces a late fitness test on the knee injury he sustained against Man City. Aaron Ramsey picked up an injury against West Ham and will miss the game. Yaya Sanago (Back), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Knee) and Abou Diaby (Knee) are all still out for the long term.
The previous meeting between the two teams came on the last day of last season at St. James’ Park. The Gunners were 1-0 winners that day, ensuring their Champions League qualification. Newcastle have only won once in their last ten meetings against Arsenal. They have not beaten Arsenal at St James’ Park since December 2005. Newcastle’s only survivor from that 1-0 win is Shola Ameobi. The Gunners’ only survivor from that same fixture is Mathieu Flamini, although he only returned to the club in the summer. The Magpies are unbeaten in their last six home games. Arsenal have won six of their last ten league games against Newcastle, including wins in all of their last three. The two teams met on exactly the same day last season with Arsenal winning 7-3 and Theo Walcott scoring a hat-trick.
Yohan Cabaye has been in great form for Newcastle in recent weeks. The Gunners submitted a bid in the summer for the midfielder, but were unable to prize him away from Newcastle. His performances of late have got the suitors watching again, as he has reportedly been garnering the attention of PSG. All this interest confirms the talent of Newcastle’s midfield maestro. Cabaye has managed five goals this season already, only one less than his entire total for last season. He is heavily involved in all that Newcastle do as a team, which showed in Newcastle’s last game against Stoke where he had the most touches of the ball at 112. In recent weeks, out of the three Newcastle play in the centre of midfield, Cabaye has found himself the furthest forward. He has reaped the rewards by getting goals against Manchester United and Crystal Palace, and he has the most penalty area entries for Newcastle with 67. Alan Pardew will hope that giving Cabaye the license to go forward will cause Arsenal problems.
Theo Walcott continued his run of good form since returning to the team from injury, with another brace against West Ham. The forward now has four goals in his last three games for the Gunners, and was the spark in getting them in front against the Hammers. Walcott’s pace in behind has added another dimension to Arsenal’s play, and his ability to get goals from the right-hand side continues to improve. In the Gunners’ 7-3 victory against Newcastle last season, Walcott started up front and managed to score a hat-trick. Although he is likely to play on the right wing this time, his pace is sure to worry Davide Santon. Walcott’s threat often stifles full backs as they are unable to go too far forward in fear of getting caught too far forward. This makes him very important for Arsenal as he is able to stretch the opposition’s defence. As Arsenal’s in form man, he will want to put his mark on the game.
It is always tough this time of the year when the fixtures are so close to each other. Both teams will take great confidence after their Boxing Day wins. Arsenal have a slight advantage, as the depth in their squad means they will be able to make more changes and not impact too much on the dynamics of their team. Despite this, Newcastle may have had an easier game in the previous fixture facing a nine man Stoke. The fixture will make for very interesting viewing and should be a lot closer than the fixtures between the two were last season. A 1-1 draw is my prediction for this one.