Newcastle United-Arsenal Preview
LONDON (SE) - Arsenal and Newcastle United battled for Champions League football last season.
The Gunners seem keen to return to that competition while Premier League survival seems to be of more pressing concern to the Magpies.
These sides meet Saturday at the Emirates Stadium with Arsenal searching for a fourth straight league victory and Newcastle hoping to end their winless away struggles.
Arsenal finished third and Newcastle United fifth last campaign and expectations were that these clubs would be in similar positions in 2012-13.
The resurgent Gunners have erased some early struggles with three wins on the trot for 30 points for seventh place. Arsene Wenger's side are three points out of the Champions League places with a match in hand, and Arsenal's Boxing Day match against West Ham United was postponed due to labour troubles with the London Underground.
"I would have loved to play but the schedule makes it impossible so we have to focus on the 29th against Newcastle," Wenger said.
Newcastle now have five defeats and four draws in nine away fixtures after blowing three leads at Old Trafford in a 4-3 defeat to leaders Manchester United on Boxing Day. The Magpies are in 15th place on 20 points.
Manager Alan Pardew could not hide his disappointment afterward.
"Well you score three goals at Old Trafford, you got to get something so we're disappointed," Pardew said.
Pardew sent out a young side with Hatem Ben Arfa (hamstring), Steven Taylor (hamstring), Yohan Cabaye (groin), Dan Gosling (knee) and Ryan Taylor (knee) all absent.
He has another injury concern since Vurnon Anita was stretchered off late in the Manchester United match.
"I'll have to see, he might be struggling for Saturday but hopefully not too bad," said Pardew about Anita.
Arsenal will be the more rested side after their 1-0 victory at Wigan Athletic last Saturday on Mikel Arteta's second-half penalty as the Gunners failed to find their form from a 5-2 win over Reading in their previous fixture.
"We didn't find the same fluency going forward,'' Wenger said. "And it was much more a win because we wanted the result than because we dominated the game.''
Wenger again deployed Theo Walcott as a central striker. Walcott failed to score after being on target in three of his previous four matches.
The Gunners should be eager to attack a Magpies defence that is the seventh-worst in the league, having conceded 30 goals, including two in the final 20 minutes Wednesday.
"We had a good game plan today to take the game to them and be offensive and hit them on the break, which we did on a number of occasions," Pardew said. "We hit the bar, hit the post and scored three goals. You've got to get something out of the game then. Unfortunately we've let four in and that's been our problem."
Pardew will get a boost since midfielder Cheik Tiote is eligible to return from suspension for Newcastle.
Arsenal won this fixture 2-1 last season and the sides also played a scoreless draw at St James' Park.