Arsenal return from their own mini-Christmas break when they welcome Newcastle United to the Emirates on Saturday.
With the Gunners’ clash with West Ham being called off due to a strike on the London Underground on Boxing Day, Arsenal are the only Premier League side to avoid a hectic quartet of matches over the festive period. But with Arsenal having won three consecutive league games before the cancelled fixture, boss Arsene Wenger has dismissed that the idea that they have gained an advantage.
“Yes [I was disappointed],” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “We can continue to build that momentum up now because we have Newcastle and then Southampton on Tuesday night. But I would have preferred to play.”
Arsenal’s cancelled fixture means that they have ground to make up in the battle for the top four and a place in next season’s Champions League. The Gunners now need to win to keep pace with Tottenham, Everton and West Brom.
In their last two fixtures, Wenger gave Theo Walcott a long-discussed chance in a central striking role, with the manager stating that “I like the signs that I have seen.”
“He has played two games [through the middle] and you have to be open-minded in our job and give people a chance,” he added. “If they take it, it's good. If [not], he will still be a fantastic winger so it puts some more assets in his game.”
Arsenal have lacked firepower this season, although Olivier Giroud will be in contention for a starting role on Saturday. Wenger, this week, also ruled out a move for Newcastle’s Demba Ba in the January transfer window.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has struggled throughout the year to get Ba and Papiss Cisse firing in tandem. The side as a whole has been disappointing in the first half of the season, although there were signs in the dramatic 4-3 defeat at Manchester Untied that their fortunes may soon improve.
Pardew is still hampered by one of the Premier League’s most extensive injury lists that still rules out the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Steven Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez. Vurnon Anita, through injury, and Mike Williamson, through suspension, have joined the ranks of absentees but an element of relief is provided by the return from suspension of Cheick Tiote.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs
M: Arteta, Wilshere
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski
Newcastle United (probable)
D: Simpson, Perch, Coloccini, Santon
M: Bigirimana, Tiote
Cisse, Marveaux, Sammy Ameobi
Prediction: Newcastle’s list of unavailable players makes for painful reading and Arsenal will surely feel that three points are there for the taking. The visitor’s defense is likely to be particularly vulnerable and Arsenal’s attack should be looking to take full advantage.
Pardew’s side did show plenty of spirit and endeavor against Manchester United, though, and they cannot be discounted. Arsenal should win comfortably, but it could be an edgy afternoon for the majority inside the Emirates.
Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle United
Where to watch: the Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 12.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.