Arsenal get a rare chance to play away from home in the Premier League today with a trip to Newcastle United. They have had an awful lot of home games of late, but today they get a chance to improve upon the best away record in the league, as well as gaining some revenge for the home defeat by today's opponents earlier in the season.
On twitter yesterday I asked three questions which all had the same answer, and that answer was of course Arsenal. The questions were who has won most games, scored most goals, and conceded least goals away from home in the Premier League so far this season. With an away record like that a trip to Newcastle is nothing to be feared, despite the fact that they stole three points from Arsenal at the Enirates earlier in the season.
Arsenal didn't play too well that day, but they still created more than enough chances to win the game handsomely. Unfortunately Newcastle scored with their only real chance of the game, after a rare mistake by Lukasz Fabianski, and then their keeper put in a man of the match performance to keep Arsenal at bay. Thankfully Arsenal have managed to sort their home form out since then, and the chances of another team taking three points from Arsenal in the Emirates are a lot slimmer for the rest of this season.
There was of course another game earlier this season between Arsenal and Newcastle when they met in the Carling Cup. On that night Arsenal went to Newcastle, and beat them 4-0 with a very convincing performance. Another win like that would of course be very welcome, but I don't think it will be that easy.
The injury news for Arsenal is that Samir Nasri will of course miss out with his hamstring problem, and Alex Song is rated as very doubtful with what I think is a dead leg. There was no word from Arsene Wenger on the availability or otherwise of Denilson, but as he damaged his hamstring last Sunday also I can only assume that he won't be playing either. Lukasz Fabianski won't play again this season, as he has to undergo surgery on his injured shoulder, and of course Thomas Vermaelen is still at least a month away from playing again.
However Arsenal still have a very strong team available to them, and there will probably be only two changes from the team that did so well to come from behind, and win 2-1 at home to Everton on Tuesday night. I would imagine that Abu Diaby will play in place of the injured Song, and Andrey Arshavin will start in place of Tomas Rosicky. Otherwise the Arsenal team should be the same, as the rest of the team are seen as part of Arsenal's strongest team at the moment.
It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Newcastle fans to their owner, after he sold their star player on transfer deadline day, and failed to replace him. I suppose an offer of £35 million for Andy Carroll was just too much to turn down for Newcastle, but if it costs them their place in the Premier League then twice the price would not have been worth it for them. I don't think Newcastle will get drawn into the relegation battle, as they still have some pretty good players in their squad.
There will of course be the beautiful sight of Joey Barton in his barcode shirt attempting to kick any Arsenal player he can get near, and particularly Cesc Fabregas I would imagine. In the Carling Cup game Barton came on as a late substitute, and set about targeting Cesc immediately until he got a yellow card. After his third yellow card offence on Cesc the referee eventually took action, and gave him the card he deserved. I hope the referee will be stricter with Barton today, but I suspect the words of David Moyes are more likely to influence him than a nasty tackle or two.
Everton manager Moyes has claimed that Cesc called the integrity of the fourth official into question in the tunnel at half time on Tuesday night, after the ridiculous award of a clearly offside goal to Everton. Moyes claims Cesc should have been sent off, and Arsenal should have been down to ten men for the entire second half. He seems to think that it would have given Everton an advantage, and possibly meant that they held onto their lead and took the three points. There was no mention of any such incident in the referee's report, and the FA have said there is no case to answer, but Moyes is clearly annoyed after Arsene Wenger answered questions on the subject to the press.
To be honest I'm not too worried about Moyes or what he has to say, and if he's so concerned about what he alleges players say to match officials he should look at his own conduct too. He claimed to have cursed at officials himself in the past, and said he's not proud of it, so maybe he should get his own house in order. Week in and week out players can be seen screaming abuse at officials, and very rarely does the official react, but Moyes just wants Cesc sent off for it. He should be more concerned with the studs first challenge by Jack Rodwell early in the second half of that game, that was only punished with a yellow card.
In today's game I'm sure Arsenal will keep their excellent league form going, and go at Newcastle right from the start. The central defensive partnership of Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny has only come together by default really, but it has been a key in Arsenal only conceding one goal in their last five Premier League games. With Jack Wilshere and Alex Song in front of them the centre of the defence has looked much stronger, and whoever replaces Song today needs to keep his defensive discipline, as well as going forward when it's required.
As long as the referee allows Cesc to play, by stopping Newcastle kicking him, I'm sure he will control the game, and make plenty of chances for the other Arsenal players to score. Robin Van Persie was voted the club's player of the month for January, and I have a feeling he will celebrate with a goal or two today. I'm predicting a 2-0 win for Arsenal, and hoping that Wolves can somehow do Arsenal a favour in the later kick off against "Manure".
After today's game the players have a week without Arsenal action, but there are some meaningless international friendlies. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that all of the Arsenal players come back fit and ready to face Wolves at home next Saturday on a day when two of their main rivals face each other. That day sees the start of a tough run for "Manure" when they play Man City at home, and then a couple of weeks later they face trips to both Chelsea and Liverpool. Arsenal need to keep winning to take advantage of any slips by them in those matches, and hopefully they will do just that today.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at how Cesc performed against Huddersfield when he came on last Sunday.
See You Tomorrow.