Kick Off – 1500hrs
Table-topping Arsenal return to the Emirates with a match against Steve McClaren’s Newcastle United. This match is usually the herald for a ridiculous scoreline, a flurry of bookings and or one team taking the plaudits. With the Gunners sitting pretty in first place and the Toon in the relegation zone at the time of writing, if you were a person accustomed to the bookies, then you would err towards placing your cash on Arsenal.
A rather large eighteen goals have been scored in the last three games between these sides at The Emirates. It points towards fireworks, but Arsene Wenger will have to do without his most explosive player yet again. Alexis Sanchez is slowly nearing premium fitness, but this match comes just too soon.
In other injury news, Mathieu Flamini seems to be fit and ready once again after missing the last game. Whether this means Calum Chambers – who slotted into defensive midfield for his debut in that position so effectively – makes way is only decided in the mind of Arsene Wenger.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was recalled to the first team in the last game – the 2-0 win over Bournemouth – and his performance on the right in place of Joel Campbell was a reminder of his huge potential. Hopefully this may be a watershed moment, but in this very moment it appears that the Costa Rican has done enough to persuade the Manager that he is the current first choice on the right flank.
All the other long term absentees are still on the long road to recovery – Rosicky, Wilshere, Cazorla, Coquelin and Welbeck still remain a mystery as to when they will be able to bolster the squad with their presence.
Newcastle will be unable to call upon Vurnon Anita. The Dutch engine in midfield will be sorely missed and this places more pressure on Jack Colback to press and harry an Arsenal midfield that will look to pass around a packed Toon centre.
Usual goalkeeping Number One, Rob Elliot, may miss out again with a stomach bug, with Karl Darlow ready to step into the breach once more. Newcastle share a common trait with Arsenal this season – they both possess an inordinate amount of injuries. Other than this common thread, the two sides campaigns thus far couldn’t contrast more.
Olivier Giroud has led the line well this season and his consistency against today’s opponents may just tip the balance for the home side. He has scored eight goals in just seven games against the Magpies and the Frenchman will look to heap more woes upon McClaren’s men.
With Giroud in such rude form against Newcastle, the last thing Toon fans want to see is Mesut Ozil lighting up the Premier League. Sixteen assists and counting for the German genius and it isn’t just his eye for a killer pass that are earning the plaudits. Ozil’s free role in the side allows him to link up attacks and float to wherever his skills can be maximised. It makes him much harder to track and his mere presence gifts space to his attacking allies.
All these pointers are facing toward a home win, but the last time stats made it appear to be nailed on, Southampton crushed Arsenal 4-0.
If there is one thing to be learned from this season, it is that from first place to last place, every side is more than capable of earning the maximum points. Arsene Wenger would do well to make sure the tempo isn’t on cruise control from the outset.