Arsenal-Newcastle United Preview


Arsene Wenger is expecting a tough match as his title-chasing side come up against Newcastle United at St James' Park on Sunday.

The Gunners (12-3-3) rallied from a goal to down to win 3-1 at West Ham on Boxing Day and will go into the final weekend of 2013 one point clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table. Carlton Cole gave West Ham the lead early in the second half before two goals from Theo Walcott and a third by Lukas Podolski secured a victory to end the Gunners' four-match winless streak.

Wenger was pleased with the way his side battled back to take all three points at Upton Park and blamed a fixture pileup for his side's recent dip in form.

"For us we have another good game now on Sunday at Newcastle who are in full confidence as well so that will be another test," Wenger told the Arsenal official club website. "Had we not have won (against West Ham) we would have had to answer many questions. That was a kind of game that of course many people would have questioned us had we not won today and even more if we had lost.

"The team wants to do well and the character is great. The concentration is top. I believe we had a difficult period just now but honestly that was mainly down to the schedule we had. I think that the schedule was absolutely horrendous but we can show that in the future. When you do not win for four games it's important to come back for the confidence level of your environment and yourself as well to win."

Newcastle (10-3-5) are in sixth place, just six points behind the Gunners. They recorded their seventh win in nine league matches Thursday when they thrashed nine-man Stoke City 5-1 at home with goals from Loic Remy (2), Yoan Gouffran, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse, who completed the scoring from the penalty spot.

"It was a fantastic second half from us," manager Alan Pardew told the Newcastle official club website. "We didn't over-elaborate, we didn't try and walk it into the net.

"There were crosses coming in, we were dribbling at people - we really mixed it up, and were everything you would want from an attacking force in that second half."

Newcastle will have midfielder Cheick Tiote available after suspension. Defender Jonas Gutierrez remains sidelined with a calf problem, but the Magpies have no reported fresh injury concerns.

The Gunners will be without midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who injured a thigh against West Ham, while England international Jack Wilshere returns to the squad after completing a two-match ban.

Arsenal did a spectacular double over Newcastle last season. England forward Walcott scored a hat trick as the Gunners thrashed the Magpies 7-3 at the Emirates Stadium in December before a rare goal from defender Laurent Koscielny gave the Londoners a 1-0 win at St James' Park on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign.

The Gunners have lost just one of the last 15 league and cup matches against the Magpies.