Sunday, January 27, 2008

Arsenal vs. Newcastle: Match Preview

Arsenal face off against Newcastle for the second time in four days this Tuesday as they look to record yet another win against the Magpies.

The Gunners have already defeated the Magpies twice this season, although they were held to a 1-1 draw in the league in early December. The latest match between the two sides was a 3-0 home win for Arsenal as the Gunners progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

Arsenal's FA Cup win, which saw Newcastle defeated by an under-strength Arsenal side, will instill the young Gunners with confidence. Kolo Toure, Alex Song, and Emmanuel Eboue are all on international duty at the African Cup of Nations. Arsene Wenger will also be missing Johan Djourou, Neves Denilson, and Robin van Persie due to injury, but a nearly full-strength Arsenal side should be able to handle the off-color Magpies.

Newcastle on the other hand have not won in their last six Premier League outings, and although manager Kevin Keegan will be looking to improve on that record, he openly admits that his players are low on confidence. Injuries to Tim Krul and Peter Ramage will do nothing to help Keegan's cause, although the absences Nigeria's Obafemi Martins, Cameroon's Geremi, and Sengal duo Habib Beye and Abdoulaye Faye will be more conspicuous.

Manuel Almunia will return in Arsenal's goal after Jens Lehmann took up the gloves in the FA Cup.

The back four is likely to see only one change from the side which faced Newcastle on Saturday, with Justin Hoyte likely to be replaced by the more experienced Bacary Sagna. Captain William Gallas, the vastly improved Philippe Senderos, and the ever-impressive Gael Clichy will complete an Arsenal defense that will be happy with no less than a clean sheet.

Tomas Rosicky looks to have recovered from the injury which saw him limp off of the field in the FA Cup, so he should rejoin Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini in the midfield. Alex Hleb, who made a late substitute appearance on Saturday should take the place of ball-hog Abou Diaby for the more important League fixture.

Up front Emmanuel Adebayor is a sure-shot starter, after bagging 8 goals in his last 6 games, including a brace against Newcastle. Eduardo is the most likely candidate to join the tall Togolese striker, although Nicklas Bendtner could feature if, as Adebayor has suggested, the two have reconciled from an argument at White Heart Lane.

Kevin Keegan may do a great job at Newcastle, but I doubt that he will start winning at the Emirates, a ground where Arsenal have only lost once. I predict a 2-0 victory for the Gunners.