Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, January 2
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Peter Kirkup
    • 4th Official: Stephen Martin
  • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 4 - 1 Newcastle
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 73 Arsenal wins, 66 Newcastle wins, 38 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-W-L-W
  • Newcastle's League Form: L-W-W-D-L-L
Happy New Year, Gooners!

Note: If you live west of the Eastern Time Zone, it's entirely possible that you're still reading this from 2015, also now known from my vantage point as "the past." For your benefit, I'll try not to include any 2016 spoilers.

Happy birthday, Calendar!
We are halfway through the league season, everyone has played everyone else exactly once, and Arsenal are on top of the table on goal difference ahead of a Leicester City team that everyone most certainly has to take seriously now. They didn't win their 39 points in a raffle. If Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez stay healthy, they are a title contender. Since you're probably wondering, Leicester come to the Emirates on February 13.

Arsenal's second half of the season looks like it could be trickier than the first, as they'll have to play road games against Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Stoke City. Those last two come in the same week later this month. They'll also play away to West Ham and Everton and those aren't exactly easy fixtures, either. Arsenal have a 100% record against top half teams away from the Emirates this season; it feels unfair to qualify that by reminding you that those wins were against Leicester, Crystal Palace, and Watford. Yes, it's been a season marked by more parity than we've ever seen in the top flight.

But, let's focus on the matter at hand, shall we? Arsenal kick off 2016 and the second half of their league slate at home against 18th place Newcastle United. Wins against Liverpool and Spurs buoyed the Toon through early December, meaning this is a match the Gunners cannot take lightly, but they have since drawn last place Aston Villa at home, conceded a very late winner at home to Everton on Boxing Day, and lost at the Hawthorns on Monday.

Arsenal cannot afford to drop any more stupid points. They're top of the table despite losing at West Brom, losing at Chelsea while they were awful, drawing at Norwich, and getting hit for four at Southampton (by the way, the last league title winner to lose any match in the league by that many goals was Manchester United in 1999/2000, who lost 5-0 at Stamford Bridge that October.)

A title contender should not drop points at home to a club in 18th place. That's right, I'm talking to you, Spurs.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (hamstring,) Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (match fitness,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
Doubts: Flamini (ankle)

Flamini missed Monday with an inflaminned ankle.
Get it? In-Flamin-ned, Flamini? Ahaha.
Mathieu Flamini missed out on Monday's match against Bournemouth after suffering some ankle inflammation in the 4-0 crapfest against Southampton; he's shifted back into the "possible" column for this one.

Elsewhere in the squad, there's good news regarding Alexis Sanchez. You may recall the Chilean was expected to return in "mid-January," whatever that meant. Word from the boss is that he may feature in next week's FA Cup tie against Sunderland, which is good news, since those aforementioned trips to Anfield and the Britannia follow.

Jack Wilshere's injury length is currently a mystery, with Arsene Wenger saying, "I said February, but I honestly don't know." Wenger was then asked if Wilshere will be available for the Euros, to which he basically said that February is not June.

As for Tomas Rosicky, he could be back in February! Wenger said on Wednesday that Rosicky is "three weeks away," which is exactly what he said last week, so clearly, I don't know how to count weeks. Mikel Arteta is back in training but lacks match fitness, so he will not be available. It's as you were with the rest of the long-term injured, including Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, and Danny Welbeck. No updates there.

Arsene Wenger has hinted that there could be some rotation; Calum Chambers impressed in place of Flamini on Monday and could retain his spot. Same goes for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gabriel; perhaps Per Mertesacker can get a rest in here. That's my guess, at least.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Chambers, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

Newcastle Squad News

Out: Cisse (groin,) Good (hip,) Haidara (knee,) Krul (knee,) Obertan (hamstring,) Williamson (hamstring,) Lascelles (hamstring,) Taylor (hamstring)
Doubts: Elliot (illness,) Riviere (knee,) Aarons (ankle,) Anita (hamstring)

You gotta be Krul to be kind.
Okay, holy crap there's a lot going on here, so let's take this position-by-position, starting with the goalkeepers. Tim Krul's season is over; he tore his ACL on international duty with Holland back in October. Rob Elliot has deputized this season, but missed Monday's match with West Bromwich Albion through illness. That handed a first Premier League start to 25-year-old Karl Darlow, who allowed a howler as Darren Fletcher's header slipped through his hands; Newcastle lost 1-0. If Elliot's healthy again, he'll start, but he's more likely 50/50.

Newcastle have five injured defenders, yet they are mostly not the starters. Curtis Good is out with a hip injury he suffered last February. Massadio Haidara is out with a knee injury and is expected back in March. Mike Williamson has struggled with a hamstring injury; he had been loaned to Wolves back in October to get playing time, but was recalled to provide cover. Now, he's out injured himself anyway, with no return date listed. Steven Taylor could be back next week from his hamstring injury. 22-year-old Jamaal Lascelles made four appearances through October and November, but is now also out with a hamstring problem.

I mentioned, however, that these injuries will not disrupt Newcastle's usual back four, with Daryl Janmaat and Paul Dummett at the fullback positions and Fabricio Coloccini and Chancel Mbemba at center back.

Vurnon Anita is only 25% likely to feature thanks to a hamstring problem of his own; as such, Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote should start in the holding midfield positions. Rolando Aarons is a major doubt as well with an ankle ligament injury. Gabriel Obertan is out with a hamstring injury, too. That will leave Moussa Sissoko, Ayoze Perez, and Georginio Wijnaldum to play the advanced midfield positions; Wijnaldum is tied for seventh in the league in goals this season with seven, though four of those came in one match against Norwich.

Up top, Papiss Cisse is out with a groin injury and Emmanuel Riviere is very doubtful as he returns from a meniscus tear, which will mean a start for Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was sent off in the reverse fixture.

Predicted XI: Elliot, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Dummett, Colback, Tiote, Sissoko, Perez, Wijanldum, Mitrovic.

Current Form

West Brom celebrate their winner over Newcastle on Monday
as Karl Darlow looks for his lost contact lens.
It had been a tale of two months for Arsenal, struggles in November but fully behind them in December to the tune of four straight wins across all competitions. Then, Boxing Day, and a 4-0 setback on the south coast at Southampton. Since my last preview, Arsenal have gone from "title favorites," to "same old Arsenal, choking away their chances," back to "title favorites" now that they are top of the table again.

On November 28, Newcastle United lost 5-1 to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. At that moment, the Toon had 10 points from 14 games and were two points from safety, sitting in 19th on goal difference with Bournemouth. A week later, Newcastle surprised everyone with a 2-0 home win against Liverpool. Unfortunately for them, Bournemouth went on a winning streak at the same time. A week later, Newcastle won again, this time at Tottenham, and they and Bournemouth jumped to 15th and 14th in the table, respectively. Of course, they were just two points clear.

A draw with Aston Villa meant Newcastle dropped back down to 17th place, but they were two points clear of relegation on Christmas. On Boxing Day, they looked to have another point in the bag before Tom Cleverley's late winner for Everton, and suddenly, that extra point dropped the Toon back into the relegation zone. With Swansea now unbeaten in three and with Newcastle losing to West Brom on Monday, the Toon are still in 18th place, two points adrift of Swansea and safety. They are, however, five points clear of their rival Sunderland and nine points clear of last place Aston Villa.

If you ask me, I think Sunderland and Aston Villa are going down come May, but I think Newcastle will scrape together enough wins to be safe. Hard to pick a third team to face the drop, so I'm going to go with the gut instinct I've had for a while and say Norwich City. I know, a lot of this is irrelevant, so I'll stop talking about it now.

Match Facts

Own Goal's second of the season gave Arsenal the win in the
reverse fixture.
In the reverse fixture, Arsenal opted to start Theo Walcott as the lone striker, in an attempt to utilize his pace against Newcastle's defenders. Newcastle opted to try to rough up the Arsenal players, to the tune of six yellow cards accumulated in the match. In addition to those six bookings, Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent off on 16 minutes for a rash challenge on Francis Coquelin.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, Newcastle's numerical disadvantage forced them to sit deeper, which effectively nullified Arsenal's ability to use Walcott for pace. Arsenal managed 22 shots to Newcastle's one and put nine shots on target. In the end, Tim Krul made nine saves, but it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's angled cross on 52 minutes which was turned into the back of the net by Newcastle center back Fabricio Coloccini. At that point, Own Goal became Arsenal's leading scorer for the season, through four fixtures.

Arsenal won this fixture last year 4-1 in mid-December. Newcastle were without either Tim Krul or Rob Elliot in goal and, more critically, were without Moussa Sissoko in the holding role. Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla scored twice each on third-string keeper Jak Alnwick, though Cazorla was widely criticized for chipping a penalty down the middle to score the home side's fourth of the night.

Arsenal have won eight straight against Newcastle and are unbeaten in their last 10 against the Toon dating back to November of 2010, when an Andy Carroll header gave Newcastle a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Arsenal then drew two straight visits to St. James' Park before winning these eight straight. Arsenal have also lost only one of their last 20 against Newcastle across all competitions, dating back to 2005.

Olivier Giroud has scored eight goals against Newcastle in seven matches, finding the back of the net in five of those seven games.

The Referee

Anthony Taylor breaks up a shoving match between Mikel
Arteta and Radamel Falcao. One league start between the
two of them, combined, this season.
The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor. Arsenal had a pretty decent 2015 with Taylor in the middle, even if their 2013 and 2014 were anything but. Arsenal's last real disaster with Taylor came at the Britannia last year, when Arsenal were on their way back from a 3-0 halftime deficit against Stoke before a harsh second yellow card to Calum Chambers. From there, however, Arsenal had a record of three wins and a draw with Taylor in the middle at the end of last season, beating Aston Villa, Liverpool, and West Ham (he came in to replace the injured Chris Foy in that one,) with the draw coming against Sunderland in May.

This season, Taylor took charge of the Community Shield and Arsenal's 1-0 win over Chelsea. He was also in the middle for the 3-0 demolition of Manchester United. So, to recap, since the 3-2 loss at the Britannia, Arsenal have a record of five wins, one draw, and no losses with Anthony Taylor as the referee.

Newcastle have split their two decisions with Taylor this season; he was the man in the middle for Newcastle's 2-0 loss at West Ham United in September as well as their emphatic 6-2 win over Norwich City in October, in which Georginio Wijnaldum scored four.

Taylor has shown two red cards this season; I mostly want to bring this up because his 90th minute red card to Adrian in West Ham's 2-1 loss to Leicester City saw Carl Jenkinson grab the gloves to play in goal. He showed his second red card of the season this past Monday, for Nathan Ake's reckless lunge on Erik Lamela in Spurs's 2-1 win at Watford.

Around the League

These are the reverse of fixtures played the weekend of August 29-30.
  • Saturday (early): West Ham United v. Liverpool; Boleyn Ground, London
    • Reverse Fixture: West Ham United won 3-0
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Bournemouth; King Power Stadium, Leicester
    • Reverse Fixture: Drawn 1-1
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Swansea City; Old Trafford, Manchester
    • Reverse Fixture: Swansea City won 2-1
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Southampton; Carrow Road, Norwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Southampton won 3-0
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Aston Villa; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
    • Reverse Fixture: Drawn 2-2
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Stoke City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
    • Reverse Fixture: West Bromwich Albion won 1-0
  • Saturday (late): Watford v. Manchester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
    • Reverse Fixture: Manchester City won 2-0
  • Sunday (early): Crystal Palace v. Chelsea; Selhurst Park, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Crystal Palace won 2-1
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Everton; White Hart Lane, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Drawn 0-0
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and calendar aficionado. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat any day of the week.