Preview by Numbers: Newcastle United v. Arsenal

St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
Sunday, December 29
8:30 a.m. EST, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Probert
    • Assistants: Ian Hussin and Mark Scholes
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Newcastle 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 68 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-L-D-W
  • Newcastle's League Form: W-L-W-D-W-W
  • Weather: Clear, 5 C / 41 F
Conveniently, Theo Walcott is back and scoring, now that
Olivier Giroud has forgotten how to strike again.
Apologies for the lack of Boxing Day match preview, though I will point out that Arsenal now have a record of "1 win" in matches where I have not written a preview. The reason was that this holiday has been busier than normal for me; I hope you and yours have had a lovely holiday period so far. The glut of fixtures continues, as it does every holiday; Arsenal play three times in the next seven days before eight days off.

If you've read Tim Stillman's column on Arseblog this week, I strongly agree with his assessment that titles are won through damage limitation; you can't avoid the blip for an entire season, it's a matter of making sure that blip doesn't turn into a tailspin. Arsenal found themselves on the brink of that tailspin when down 1-0 at Upton Park on Thursday, having already gone three winless in the League. When Aaron Ramsey left through injury things looked dire, but substitute Lukas Podolski, in his first appearance since August, stole the show. Arsenal were arguably on the edge of the cliff when the substitution was made. Now, they're top of the league again and a win today against Newcastle means Arsenal will continue to be at the summit as the season reaches its halfway point.

It's a big match against an in-form side in Newcastle and Arsenal will do well to get their title run re-started with three points today.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (thigh,) Sanogo (back,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Koscielny (gash)

Jack Wilshere prepares to attack from the
The damage from Thursday is that Aaron Ramsey will be out for the remainder of the Christmas period with a thigh injury, the extent of which is not certain yet, though I've heard it could be up to a month. Conveniently, the center of midfield is where Arsenal actually does have strength in numbers; there are plenty of men that are ready to step in. Jack Wilshere returns from his two match ban and might step straight back into the line-up with Ramsey now sidelined.

Arsene Wenger will have to keep rotation in mind as well, considering they have played twice in the past week and have three more matches in the coming week. There's a question of whether Laurent Koscielny will return; it would be certainly useful to have fresh, if a bit gashed, legs in the center of defense against a team like Newcastle that likes to get forward. The Frenchman did appear on numerous training photographs on the Arsenal Web site yesterday, indicating that he is likely available for selection.

It's "as you were" with the rest of the side; I'd be more likely to start the usual bench players on Wednesday against Cardiff than against a more threatening Newcastle side. Wenger will have to choose between Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, and Jack Wilshere in the deep-lying midfield roles and between Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, and Santi Cazorla on the left wing. Not bad questions to have, even without the Welshman. Alternatively, he could give Olivier Giroud a rest and start Podolski centrally with Cazorla wide. I would suspect Giroud to be rested at some point, though more likely against Cardiff for reasons I outlined above.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Taylor (knee)
Doubts: Gutierrez (calf)

I don't think Gene Hackman will start
for Pardew's side.
Holding midfielder Cheick Tiote returns from a one-match ban for accumulation for Alan Pardew's side, though they hardly needed him to control a Stoke side that imploded with two red cards. Newcastle have no new injury concerns after that match: Jonas Gutierrez faces a late fitness test as he returns from a calf problem, while Ryan Taylor is out long term with a knee injury.

Arsenal will have to be wary of Newcastle's French connection up top, with Loic Remy playing ahead of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Yoan Gouffran. With Mathieu Debuchy at right back and Moussa Sissoko in one of the holding roles along with Tiote, Newcastle will likely have six French starters in their XI. Arsenal, meanwhile, only have six French players in their entire first team, and that includes the injured Yaya Sanogo and Abou Diaby. By further comparison, Paris St. Germain had only two French players in their starting XI against Lille in their last match.

Predicted XI: Krul, Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon, Sissoko, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Gouffran, Cabaye, Remy.

Current Form

Newcastle ran rampant over an imploding Stoke City on
Boxing Day.
As mentioned earlier, Arsenal's comeback in East London prevented their blip from reaching a full-on tailspin; the Gunners had gone winless in their last four matches across all competitions for the first time since November-December of 2012, a string which also included two losses (Swansea and Olympiacos) and two draws (Aston Villa and Everton.) This was also the first time Arsenal had gone three league matches without a win since January. Arsenal have had a habit of struggling in January over the last two seasons, winning only once in eight league matches in the calendar's first month in 2012 and 2013. Of course, it's still December right now, so forget I said that and I'll just bring it up again on Wednesday in the Cardiff preview.

Newcastle are in quite the purple patch of their own, however. Since a week which saw them lose the Tyne-Wear derby to last place Sunderland, then crash out of the League Cup to Manchester City days later, the Magpies have lost just once, 3-0 to Swansea on December 4 in a midweek fixture. They have won seven and drawn one in that nine match span. They have scalped wins from the likes of Chelsea (2-0,) Tottenham Hotspur (1-0,) and Manchester United (1-0.) The in-form streak has helped Newcastle climb from 11th to 6th in the table. They spent Boxing Day trouncing nine-man Stoke, 5-1.

Match Facts

Laurent Koscielny celebrates his goal at Newcastle last
year, which sealed Champions League football for the boys
in red and white.
Arsenal opened the 2011/12 season on Tyneside against Newcastle in a game that ended 0-0, from which Joey Barton was able to finagle two Arsenal players, Gervinho and Alex Song, into three match bans. That Arsenal squad, two weeks prior to the debacle at Old Trafford, was so different from the one they would evolve into even later in that season that it's hard to even remember what else happened in that game, aside from Barton's antics. Even still, seven of Arsenal's starters that day remain with the club (Szczesny, Gibbs, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Rosicky, and Ramsey.)

Since that match, which was the first meeting between the sides after the unpleasantness, Arsenal have won all three meetings with Newcastle. Later in the 2011/12, Arsenal won 2-1 at the Emirates after a 95th minute winner from Vermaelen, a goal which came so late due to Tim Krul's time wasting throughout the match.

On this very day last year, December 29, Arsenal hit seven past Newcastle, including a Theo Walcott hat trick and an Olivier Giroud brace from the bench. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski had the other goals for Arsenal; Demba Ba had a brace and Sylvain Marveaux scored the other for Newcastle in a match that ended 7-3. Their last meeting on Tyneside came in the final day of last season, as Laurent Koscielny gave Arsenal a 1-0 win, clinching fourth place ahead of Tottenham Hotspur. I suppose I can make one last "1-1 at Newcastle" joke here.

Newcastle have not beaten Arsenal since Andy Carroll headed in a winner from a first half set piece in a 1-0 win at the Emirates on November 7, 2010.

The Referee

Lee Probert hugs a camouflaged Clint Dempsey. God, I
forgot how bad those Fulham kits were.
The referee is Wiltshire-based Lee Probert. Arsenal have had Probert once this season, for their 4-1 win over Norwich City. Prior to that match, Arsenal had been winless in their last five with Probert, including a 1-1 draw at Southampton on New Year's Day 2013, a 1-0 loss at Norwich last October, a 2-1 loss at Fulham on January 2, 2012 (there's something about Lee Probert and Arsenal this close to New Year's,) a League Cup loss to Manchester City, and a 2-2 draw at Wigan three years ago today (again, there's something about New Year's.)

Newcastle have also seen Probert once this year and lost in the Tyne-Wear derby, 2-1 to Sunderland. The Toon had a record of one win (over QPR last May,) one draw (with Aston Villa last September,) and one loss (to Brighton in the FA Cup) with Probert last season.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): West Ham United 3 - 3 West Bromwich Albion
  • Saturday: Aston Villa 1 - 1 Swansea City
  • Saturday: Hull City 6 - 0 Fulham
  • Saturday: Manchester City 1 - 0 Crystal Palace
  • Saturday: Norwich City 0 - 1 Manchester United
  • Saturday (late): Cardiff City 2 - 2 Sunderland
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Southampton; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Stoke City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Liverpool; Stamford Bridge, London