Newcastle – Arsenal (Premier League)
Here we are, heading into the last Premier League round-up before New Year’s Eve and hold and behold, Arsenal is still atop of the table. How did the song go, “against all odds” was it? Sunday, at St. James Park, Newcastle United will play host to the Premier League leaders but they won’t lay down the red carpet. Boosted by a good season and the recent 5-1 victory over Stoke they’ll make Arsenal work hard for the 3 points.
Newcastle are 6th with 33 points, one below Everton and 2 ahead of United and Spurs. Quietly and steady Allan Pardew’s men march on, week after week, maintaining their position in the table. They have a 10-2-5 track record and have been unbeaten for the last four League matches. On Boxing Day they’ve notched a 5-1 win over Stoke City coming from behind. Loic Rémy scored a brace and could even have been a hat trick had he not missed a penalty. Rémy’s influence in the Magpies’s remarkable performances is undeniable. He is their top scorer, with 10 goals. Even when he is not hitting the nets he is working is magic through quality passes.
Tioté missed Boxing Day due to suspension but will be back on Sunday. Jonás Gutiérrez (calf) remains the only injury of not in Newcastle United.
Probable line-up: Krul – Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon – Tioté, Sissoko – Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Gouffran – Rémy.
Ozil coming to the Emirates definitely raised the bar for the Gunners. First as a symbol, signing such a talented and valued play-maker says “we mean business” in capital letters. Then in the field, around him the other Arsenal players felt the need to step up. And they did, from the back to the front line they all said “we can do this”. Of course it was not enough, not for the most competitive league in the world. Frailties started to show: the lack of depth of the roster more than any other. No alternatives in the front is another big issue. Olivier Giroud did a great start of the season but lately the heavy schedule has taken it’s toll. Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Théo Whalcott’s injuries forced him to start every Champions League match and 17 of the 18 League ties. He is the third most used in the squad, right after Szczesny and Aaron Ramsey. Last Thursday’s victory over West Ham brought the Gunners both good and bad news. The 3 points were welcome and so was Podolsky’s return, sealed with a hit. How Arsène Wenger and the team needs the German back to his old self! But he only came in to replace when Ramsey limped out of the pitch. He is now expected to stay out for the rest of the Holiday Season, that means Arsenal’s top scorer and most regular player will be out in the upcoming ties against Newcastle, Cardiff and Tottenham, at least.
Abou Diaby, Sanogo, Oxlade-Chamberlain will keep the Welsh company in the sidelines. Laurent Koscielny is still in doubt.
Probable line-up: Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesaker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Wilshere, Arteta – Walcott, Ozil, Podolski – Giroud.
Arsenal head into the last match of 2012 as leaders of the Premier League, with 39 points gathered in 18 games. Through the all run many questioned if they should be taken seriously as title contenders. Despite the flaws they are still atop and entering the new year as such bears special meaning. All of the four last Champions of the League were number 1 at this time of the year. It’s not a sure thing but counts both as omen and a statistic fact. Weather you rely on faith or figures you’ll have something to hold on to.