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Newcastle United-Arsenal Preview

AP - Sports

Arsenal have an opportunity to tighten their grip on fourth place and the final Champions League qualifying spot when they play Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium on Monday evening.

The Gunners (21-7-7) will extend their lead over fifth-place Everton to four points with just two Premier League matches to play if they beat the Magpies.

Arsenal have regained some momentum in league play with back-to-back victories against West Ham United and Hull City after taking just two points from their previous four matches. Their 3-0 win at Hull last weekend was a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup final when they will play the Tigers at Wembley on May 17.

Fit-again Aaron Ramsey and Lukas Podolski gave the Gunners a two-goal half-time lead at the KC Stadium, before Germany international Podolski added a third ten minutes after the break.

France defender Bacary Sagna believes Arsenal have rediscovered their best form ahead of the clash with Newcastle.

"It was about time to wake up and that's what we did recently in our games," said Sagna. "We're fighting a bit a more and we're helping each other a bit more as well.

"We have to win every single match and play it game by game to qualify for the Champions League and win the FA Cup. But it won't be easy (against Newcastle) because they will want to show a different image, they will want to take points and they will want to wake up like we did."

Newcastle (14-4-17) are ninth in the table on 46 points but have struggled badly in recent weeks and lost their last five matches in the Premier League, conceding 14 goals and scoring just once in that spell. Three of those losses were suffered at St James' Park and a group of home supporters made it clear they wanted manager Alan Pardew to be relieved of his duties.

The most recent of those home defeats came last Saturday against Swansea City when the Magpies were beaten 2-1. Striker Shola Ameobi gave Newcastle the lead on 23 minutes when his strike ended a run of 383 minutes without a Premier League goal for Pardew's side. Wilfried Bony equalised for Swansea on the stroke of half-time and the Ivory Coast striker then converted a penalty in stoppage time to secure a late victory the Welsh club.

Pardew has backed Ameobi's assertion after the Swansea game that the Newcastle squad needs to be strengthened during the summer transfer window.

"Shola's comments were something that we carry across the whole club," said Pardew. "He's an experienced player at this football club. He has good knowledge of the game and this football club.

"He knows there's an improvement we need to make. A stronger squad is the way forward. That's something I don't think me, the board and (Newcastle owner) Mike (Ashley) have any issues on. We're all pretty solid on it."

Arsenal expect to have captain Thomas Vermaelen back in their squad after a hamstring problem, while Newcastle should have forward Hatem Ben Arfa (leg) and midfielder Moussa Sissoko (hamstring) available.

The Gunners edged a 1-0 win at St. James' Park on Dec. 29. Olivier Giroud's goal on 65 minutes made the difference in an even encounter. Arsenal won the last four Premier League matches against the Magpies and lost only once in the 15 league and cup matches against them dating back to December 2005.

Theo Walcott scored three goals as Arsenal beat Newcastle 7-3 in their last league meeting at the Emirates in December 2012.

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