Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 29
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Chris Foy
    • Assistants: Stephen Child and Harry Lennard
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 1 Newcastle
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 66 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-L-W-W-W
  • Newcastle's League Form: L-W-L-L-W-L
  • Weather: Chance of Rain / Windy. 47 °F / 8 °C
I'm pretty sure my good luck charm only works because
Carlsberg sponsors Arsenal now.
Arsenal have now won three straight matches in the league and that's moderate cause for excitement, but I've got a bit of a quandry. Before the West Brom match, I decided to switch up the beer that I normally drink at the Blind Pig during matches, and the switch to Carlsberg appeared to work. It worked for the Reading and Wigan matches, too.

However, it also dawned on me that for all three matches, I was, for one reason or another, also wearing a button-down shirt, instead of a T-shirt or Arsenal jersey. So, now I'm not sure which change has brought about the good luck. Such is my superstitious nature that I can't change either of these things now. So, make sure you say hello to me at the pub on Saturday, in my button-down shirt while I'm drinking Carlsberg.

But, enough about me, you're here to read about Arsenal. Some good vibes are starting to flow around the team and now is not the time to halt that run. Newcastle played an epic match against United on Wednesday and probably deserved a point, but it was at Old Trafford, so Fergie's deal with Satan meant the hosts got all three. The Magpies have lost seven of their last nine and will be tired, so the Gunners will hope to pounce and make that postponed Boxing Day fixture advantageous instead of just disappointing.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Santos (abdominal), Fabianski (shoulder), Diaby (thigh)

Theo Walcott draws a penalty after being fouled by
Jean Beausejour, whose name I find stupid, leading to
an irrational level of hatred.
It appears that Arsenal got through last week's match against Wigan fairly unscathed in terms of injuries, though Jack Wilshere did get knocked around quite a bit. That means the team news is, once again, surprisingly light, which is such a lovely change of pace.

Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud both missed the trip to Wigan through illness, but both are available once again. Andre Santos and Abou Diaby (!) return to training next week. The only long term injury remains Lukasz Fabianski, who will be out until at least mid-January after shoulder surgery in October.

I suspect there will be little need to change the side too much from the XI that beat both Reading and Wigan, though there is a fixture on Tuesday to think about, so perhaps the question of rotation should be asked. Then again, when Arsenal last played a congested string of fixtures, in late November, there was no rotation, so why would I assume there would be any now?

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Gutierrez (knee), Anita (ankle), Ben Arfa (hamstring), S. Taylor (hamstring), Cabaye (groin), Gosling (knee), Vuckic (knee), R. Taylor (knee)
Suspended: Williamson (accumulation)

Vurnon Anita's injury was not as serious as first feared,
considering the death stare he's getting from Fergie in this
Newcastle picked up more injuries in Wednesday's loss at Old Trafford, bringing their list of wounded up to eight players. On the other hand, Cheick Tiote returns after a one match ban for yellow card accumulation. On yet another hand, Mike Williamson picked up his fifth booking of the year on Wednesday, so he has to sit this one out for accumulation.

As for that injury list, I mentioned that it is now at eight. Jonas Gutierrez was withdrawn from the squad before the match with a knee injury that has required an injection; he will miss two or three matches according to manager Alan Pardew. Vurnon Anita left the match in injury time on a stretcher after a bad challenge from Antonio Valencia (who was already on a yellow;) Anita's injury is not as severe as first thought and his ankle is merely inflamed. He will not, however, be able to play Saturday.

That leaves six players still on Newcastle's long term injury list. There is no information on the return of Dan Gosling from a knee injury, so I suspect he's out a while. Steven Taylor and Hatem Ben Arfa are both out until some point in January with hamstring injuries. Yohan Cabaye is out until February with a groin injury. Haris Vuckic and Ryan Taylor are out for the season with knee ligament injuries.

Newcastle remains a threat to score goals, however, even with all of these injuries. Demba Ba's knees still work, at the moment, and he and Papiss Cisse have formed a formidable strike pair up front. The problem is, the team leaks goals with so many problems and injuries at the back, made worse by Williamson's suspension.

Current Form

These kits are horrible. Why the hell did Newcastle wear
these? Did their black and white stripes clash with
Manchester United's red? Just awful.
Arsenal have played eight home games in the league so far this season and have won just as many as they have not won. They've beaten Spurs, West Brom, Southampton, and QPR. They've drawn Sunderland and Fulham. They've lost to Chelsea and Swansea. After that loss to Swansea just four weeks ago, Arsenal sat 10th place in the table. Then, they climbed as high as third after beating Wigan last week. It's been a weird, weird season. Arsenal now sit in seventh place, as most sides have played twice since the last time the Gunners took the pitch. They're three points back of fourth with a game in hand. All things considered, this is where Arsenal was in December last year, granted, with fewer teams around them in the same spot.

After the Boxing Day round of fixtures last season, Newcastle United had 30 points and were in a respectable seventh place, though they had fallen from as high as third. Right now, after one more fixture than last year, they have ten fewer points. They currently sit in 15th place with 20 points. In their last nine league fixtures, Newcastle have lost seven, only managing wins, at home, against Wigan and QPR. More astonishingly, across all competitions, in their last six road games, they have conceded at least twice in each of them (that's over four league games and two Europa League matches.) Perhaps yet even more astonishing, Newcastle have yet to win away from home this season, across all competitions.

Match Facts

After Vermaelen's winner, Wojciech Szczesny casually
stole the ball.
Arsenal took four out of a possible six points from Newcastle last year, after Newcastle had taken four of six from Arsenal the year before. After a season opening 0-0 draw on Tyneside that saw Joey Barton be a jerk, leading to three match bans for both Gervinho and Alex Song, Arsenal won the reverse at the Emirates, 2-1. Hatem Ben Arfa opened the scoring in the 14th minute, after a Thomas Vermaelen give away gave the ball straight to Demba Ba. Arsenal trailed for all of 50 seconds, as the former captain buried an equalizer straight away from the restart. Then, nothing really happened for a while. In the 94th minute, Vermaelen made up for the earlier error, burying a winner off a rebound.

Entering this fixture last year, Newcastle was one of only three Premier League teams that had beaten Arsenal more than they had lost to Arsenal over all competitions. Arsenal's win evened the all-time series at 66-66. Currently, only Liverpool and Manchester United, among top flight English sides, have beaten Arsenal more times than Arsenal have beaten them. Other sides that can make the same claim are based only on small sample sizes (like Championship side Peterborough United, who won their only ever meeting with Arsenal, in 1965.)

The Referee

The referee is Merseyside-based Chris Foy. Are the jokes about how Tottenham fans confused him with Olympian Chris Hoy still funny? No? Well, Morrissey and that cat in the picture don't think it's funny, so I'll drop it.

Arsenal have seen Foy once this year, in the season opening match against Sunderland, which was a 0-0 draw that saw zero bookings. Foy also worked only Arsenal draws last season: 0-0 with Bolton in February and 1-1 with Stoke in April. Arsenal's last win with Foy in the middle came on May 1, 2011, at home against Manchester United. Remember that? That time we beat United? That was nice.

As for Newcastle, they have also only seen Foy once this year, though they won that match, 2-1, over West Bromwich Albion in October.

Foy is one of three Select Group officials who has not shown a red card this year. Lee Mason and Andre Marriner are the other two. Foy's 31 yellow cards is second fewest, behind Anthony Taylor, who happens to be the fourth official tomorrow.

Around the League

Everton, fresh off a victory over Wigan on Boxing Day, face
Chelsea on Sunday, in what is probably the best match of
the weekend. Yes, I only used this photo to show a
dejected Jean Beausejour, whom you may recall that I
irrationally hate from an earlier photo in this preview.
It's still the festive period, which means a ton of fixtures get cramped into a relatively small period of time. After this weekend, there's a mid-week round of fixtures (Arsenal plays again Tuesday, along with most teams,) which is then followed by an FA Cup weekend.

It is also a fairly normal weekend of fixtures in terms of the scheduling: early matches on Saturday and Sunday with the other six kicking off at 10:00 a.m. Eastern / 3:00 p.m. England on Saturday. As you may have noticed, Arsenal and Newcastle is Saturday's late game this week. Late games are weird for me in this time zone; yes, you don't have to wake up at an ungodly hour, but by the time the match is over, it's almost evening, which is disorienting when you usually still have the whole day ahead of you after matches.

As for the other matches moved for television this weekend, Sunderland, fresh off beating Manchester City, will host Tottenham Hotspur at the Stadium of Light. Sunday is a London v. Liverpool day. In the early match, Chelsea travels to face Everton at Goodison Park. In the late match, Liverpool travels to London to face Queens Park Rangers.

There are six matches in the standard time slot this week. Manchester United hosts West Bromwich Albion, who are still hanging on to sixth spot. Manchester City is away at Carrow Road to face Norwich, in a stadium where both Arsenal and United (and Stoke, Sunderland, and Wigan) have lost this year. Stoke City, who are unbeaten in nine, host Southampton at the Britannia. Stoke have not lost a league game at home since early February. Aston Villa will attempt to not lose embarrassingly again as they host Wigan at Villa Park. Struggling Fulham hosts Swansea in West London. Lastly, Reading (no longer in last place thanks to goal difference and their Boxing Day draw) hosts West Ham at the Madejski.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played on Sunday, May 19, the final day of the season.