Arsenal can continue to show their title teeth by winning at Newcastle

Newcastle v Arsenal, Premier League, February 5, 2011

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St James’ Park welcomes their Magpies for the first time since the transfer window shut, and a vocal Toon faithful will have their opportunity to react to the club’s decision to sell Andy Carroll. Owner Mike Ashley should expect some loud feedback.

Opinion on Tyneside seems split over the decision to sell their star striker.

On the one hand their is a groundswell of voices who argue that, whilst no-one at the club wanted to see top goalscorer Carroll leave, £35m was just too much cash to turn down. On the other hand, how can teams like Newcastle expect to improve if they cower to big bids from the big boys? If the offer for Carroll was on the table in January, wouldn’t it be there at the end of the season too? Moreover, as the Toon were unable to buy a replacement striker, shouldn’t they have said no?

Make no mistake about it, Newcastle could easily get sucked deep into the relegation dogfight. Precariously hovering in midtable, a few losses on the trot could see all confidence drain from Alan Pardew’s men.

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In fairness though, even if the Magpies would have held on to Andy Carroll, the forward would have missed the match with Arsenal through injury. That being the case Alan Pardew has no new selection problems, although formulating a plan to turn over Arsene Wenger’s still looks a daunting task.

Looking to spearhead Newcastle’s attacking capabilities against the Londoners will strikers Leon Best and Shola Ameobi; two forwards who on their day can score against the best of defences, but both are more generally regarded outside the top level of forwards featuring in the Premier League. Put another way, one suspects that the Arsenal defence will be relatively happy should Best and Ameobi names appear on the team sheet on Saturday. That’s a far cry from the days when players likes Shearer, Beardsley, Ferguson or even Tino Asprilla lead the line for the Toon.

Dropping further back to midfield, Newcastle newcomer Stephen Ireland will not figure. He joined on loan from Villa last Monday but has a hamstring problem which is expected to sideline him for around two weeks. On a more positive note, Cheik Tiote can come back into the fold after serving a three-match ban, joining the mainstays of Kevin Nolan and man-of-the-season Joey Barton across the middle.

Newcastle forward momentum will be a key factor in the match against Arsenal, as the Gunners will undoubtedly hold possession for large period of the contest, putting the home defence under all sorts of pressure.

Amid all the noise of Manchester United’s unbeaten run, and Chelsea and Manchester City’s mega winter spending, the Wenger Boys appeared to have quietly maneuvered themselves into second place in the league. The Professor has watched his side claim win after win in recent weeks – they are current on a seven game winning hot streak – and belief is definitely starting to swell around the squad that silverware will return this season after their well-documented five year drought.

Even with the loss of Samir Nasri, the continuing question marks levelled at the Arsenal defence, and the criticisms of forwards such as Andrey Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner, the Gunners have made themselves a serious force in the championship race this year.

The return of Robin van Persie in recent weeks has been a major contributing factor to the Arsenal winning streak. The Dutchman’s silky left-foot is a weapon that can unlock every team in the league and, apart from Van Persie’s obvious goal-threat in front of goal, his dead-ball delivery been a great asset from which the team have profitted.

Suddenly Arsenal look awash with attacking options. Theo Walcott’s lightning pace, Cesc Fabregas’ guile, and Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny’s aerial threat offer just a handful of other avenues for the visitors show off their offensive abilities. However it still rings true that Arsenal’s favoured method of trying to score will be through their famed pass-pass-pass brand of football.

That style, which can so often labels Arsenal as the best team to watch in England, was noticeably their downfall in the reverse fixture between the teams earlier in the season. Then the Wenger Boys suffered from a perennial problem of failing to turn ball retention into goals, and a Carroll header earned the Toon a shock away win.

If the Gunners find an early opening at St James’ then there is every reason to suspect that the Londoners can go on a cruise to a comfortable victory by a two, or even three goal margin. Moreover, after coming back in the second half to turn over Everton last time out, Arsenal showed a steely character that suggested the southerners can also roll their sleeves up to grind out results these days. All of which feels like bad news for the Toon.

Expect to hear a chorus of boos at the full time whistle.

101gg predicts: Newcastle 1 – Arsenal 2

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