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Match preview; Newcastle Arsenal

By Phil Gregory

After the controversy surrounding the Everton game, we’re off to the North East for a traditional 3pm kick off against Newcastle. Newcastle didn’t have the best of times in their last match, losing 1-0 to an average Fulham side at Craven Cottage. Newcastle were probably hoping for a bit of good news following the defection of Andy Carroll to Liverpool, but instead they got a defeat and injury to Shola Ameobi.

That injury has left them worryingly short up front, with only Leon Best, Lovenkrands and youngster Nile Ranger available, none of whom will inspire much confidence for Newcastle fans. Leon Best has only three league goals this season, all resulting from a single match versus West Ham earlier in the campaign. Lovenkrands only has two goals himself and generally appears from the bench for the Toon while Nile Ranger has only notched in the Carling Cup. None of the three have been considered first teamers for Newcastle this season and yet that is the situation they now find themselves in. The bright spot for the Toon is the return of defensive midfielder Tiote, who has impressed in his debut season.

As for us, Theo Walcott has been passed fit which is a relief, given our concerns out wide after Nasri was confirmed to miss the next three weeks. Song will miss the game but thankfully his injury isn’t too serious. Vermaelen is still out, while Fabianksi is missing for the rest of the season after shoulder surgery.

Szcznesy

Sagna Djourou Koscielny Clichy

Diaby WIlshere

Fabregas

Walcott Van Persie Arshavin

Szcznesy seems to be the official number one now after impressing whenever called upon and an injury to Fabianksi. What is surely the Premier League’s form back four (even if you count Saha’s “goal”) is unchanged from the midweek tie. Song got kicked by Koscielny so misses out, likely to be replaced by Diaby who will be partnered in midfield by the ever-present Jack Wilshere.

Cesc Fabregas goes back to his day job of playmaking after a brief séjour (blimey Phil, this French living is having an effect – Tony) giving Everton FC what for at half time, according to David Moyes. Theo goes wide right with Van Persie continuing up front. Rosicky played wide left in place of the injured Nasri but for this game I expect Arshavin to come back into the line-up. The little Russian has said he was lacking confidence this season, but it didn’t look that way when he volleyed a crucial goal against Everton in midweek. Welcome back, Andrei.

Right, we’re top of the away table and coming into this game off the back of a morale-boosting comeback against Everton. The only negatives would be the absences of Nasri and Song, though I’m confident the team above has what it takes to get three points from a Newcastle side in disarray. The return of Tiote could make life a little more difficult for us than it would have been otherwise, and he’ll be clipping at our players heels all game, probably literally. Newcastle will be anticipating a game with little of the ball, and will have to make the most of it when they do get it. Their lack of strikers will hinder them in this regard: not only because they won’t be making the most of what few chances they get but also as they’ll lack a focal point to play the ball to and a target for crosses. That will play straight into our hands and help us dominate possession even more.

The big question then will be on cutting edge up front, turning that possession into goals on the scoresheet. Many eyes will on Arshavin in that respect, especially after the Russian’s goal against Everton. He’s the one who has the ability to make Nasri’s absence much less painful, and with Nasri out of the Barca tie, now would be a good time for him to starting performing as we know he can again.

I’m going for a comfortable 2-0 to the Arsenal. If we weren’t playing away I’d be more confident given Newcastle are in chaos at the moment, but I can’t see us scoring three. At the time of writing, I haven’t had the benefit of Dogface’s crystal ball to inform my prediction, so take it with a pinch of salt…!

United are away against a Wolves side that have performed fairly well recently at home with three wins and two defeats. They are however bottom of the league for a reason, but don’t let that stop you hoping for United to slip up there, I know I will be. There’s no margin for error for us, points dropped at this stage would damage our title hopes and the players’ confidence. Three points please gents.

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