Arsenal host Newcastle in a clash that will have implications at both ends of the Premier League table. As Arsene Wenger’s men continue their quest for the title, Steve McClaren’s side are in the midst of a relegation battle.
The Gunners begin 2016 on top of the Premier League after beating Bournemouth in their last outing. That has to be a good omen for a side looking to win their first title since 2004. There is mounting optimism that this could be Arsenal’s year—a hope reinforced by the fact that Manchester City and Leicester both dropped points in their 0-0 draw earlier this week.
Spirits are not as high at Newcastle—and not just because of events on the field. Although they suffered a humbling 1-0 defeat away to West Brom in their last game, that pales into insignificance next to the news that their former goalkeeper Pavel Srniceck has passed away at the age of just 47.
After a difficult week, the Magpies will be desperate to give everyone associated with the club a lift with a positive result at the Emirates Stadium.
Date: Saturday, January 2
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET
Location: Emirates Stadium, London
Television coverage: NBCSN and NBC Universo (U.S. only)
Streaming: NBC Live (U.S. only)
W (0-3) Olympiakos
W (0-2) vs. Aston Villa
W (2-1) vs. Manchester City
L (4-0) vs. Southampton
W (2-0) vs. Bournemouth
W (2-0) vs. Liverpool
W (1-2) vs. Tottenham
D (1-1) vs. Aston Villa
L (0-1) vs. Everton
L (1-0) vs. West Brom
Arsenal recovered from suffering their biggest defeat of the season to beat Bournemouth 2-0 in their last game. Their hope now will be to kick on and ensure that result at St. Mary's Stadium was little more than a Boxing Day blip.
Newcastle appeared to have turned the corner with superb wins against Liverpool and Tottenham, but no win in their last three games suggest there is still much work to be done.
McClaren's men face a daunting January fixture list that includes Arsenal, Watford, Manchester United and West Ham. They can't afford a barren month so will have to pull off some surprises to improve their survival chances.
2015 was a good year for Arsene Wenger. Not only did he claim both the FA Cup and Community Shield, but he finished up on top of the Premier League. There's no trophy for that, of course, and the Frenchman's focus now is on ensuring Arsenal stay consistent enough to make 2016 even more memorable. He told Arsenal.com:
From January 1 to December 31 we were consistent and have improved our results. The team has grown in stature, is more mature, more reliable and we won the FA Cup and the Community Shield. We are in a strong position in the Premier League so hopefully 2016 will be better.
We are mature enough and we have the requested quality to fight and compete. The most important thing is to feel, at the end of the season, that we have given absolutely everything to be successful. After that, if somebody has been better than us, we will accept it, but we want to fight to show that we have a chance.
For Steve McClaren, things have been much more difficult this week. At his press conference, he was called to speak about the tragic loss of Srnicek. McClaren told Damian Spellman of the Daily Mail:
It's really sad. It puts everything into perspective. Sport and football are terrific events, great theatre, there's great debating, it's great on a Saturday, but when things like that happen to Pav, it puts it really into perspective.
We talked a lot about it last week when he was in a coma and unfortunately, he's not come through. It's absolutely devastating to lose anybody, but especially a character like Pav at that age is really, really sad.
Our condolences go to his family and everybody who has been around him, friends. It's really a sad time at Newcastle at the end of this year.
McClaren spoke with great dignity about the situation and rightfully pointed out that football comes secondary to such a sorrowful situation. However, that doesn't change the fact that Newcastle need point—and fast.
It's an untimely blow for a club already struggling. McClaren and Newcastle will both that 2016 brings better fortunes, on and off the field.
With a hectic winter schedule to account for, Wenger is likely to rotate again. That could mean Per Mertesacker dropping to the bench, with Gabriel Paulista retaining his place after his impressive display against Bournemouth. Nacho Monreal should also make a return to the back four.
In midfield, a slight doubt about Mathieu Flamini means Calum Chambers could once again be asked to patrol the central midfield, while Joel Campbell could be in line to bring fresh legs to the attack.
Predicted Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Paulista, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Calum Chambers, Aaron Ramsey; Joel Campbell, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott; Olivier Giroud
With Tim Krul out for the season, the loss of Rob Elliot has hit Newcastle hard. Against West Brom, Karl Darlow was brought in and did not cover himself in glory. Nevertheless, McClaren has insisted he retains faith in the former Nottingham Forest man. The Newcastle boss told ESPN:
In the first half, he made a terrific save from James Morrison low to his right which kept the score at 0-0. We had a thousand set plays against us, he dealt with that very well, and it's just one of those things that happen. Karl Darlow is a very good goalkeeper and I have every confidence in him.
If Elliot is not fit, McClaren is likely to stick with the same XI that narrowly lost at the Hawthorns.
Predicted Newcastle XI (4-2-3-1): Karl Darlow; Daryl Janmaat, Chancel Mbemba, Fabricio Coloccini, Paul Dummett; Vurnon Anita, Jack Colback; Moussa Sissoko, Ayoze Perez, Georginio Wijnaldum; Aleksandar Mitrovic
Players to Watch
Arsenal: Calum Chambers
Chambers impressed in just his second-ever start as a holding midfielder against Bournemouth and could be afforded another chance against Newcastle.
He's not the quickest, but the likes of Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry have shown that pace is not a prerequisite to thrive at the base of a Premier League midfield. What Chambers does have going for him is that he's tall, intelligent and good on the ball. He will be detailed to watch the off-the-ball runs of Ayoze Perez and keep the dangerous Spaniard at bay.
Newcastle: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Summer signing Mitrovic has plenty to prove in this game, having been sent off in the reverse fixture back in August.
Since then, he has begun to settle into the Premier League and look a threat—particularly in the air, where Arsenal historically struggle. He already has a goal at the Emirates to his name, having scored in a 3-3 draw against Anderlecht back in November 2014. Another strike against Arsenal would go some way towards redeeming him for his August misdemeanour.