28 December 2013

Newcastle-Arsenal Preview: will Walcott and Koscielny reprise their roles?

When this fixture was first announced, I doubt that many of us would have envisioned a clash as fraught with significance as it has turned out to be. After all, Newcastle finished the 2012-13 season a mere five points above the drop-zone with only Sunderland between them and relegation.

What a difference a year can make—so far. As it currently stands, Newcastle are in seventh place, eight points behind Man City (with a game in hand) and one point from next year's European competitions. They've scalped a few along the way, including a 2-0 home-win over Chelsea, a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, and a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. Long story short, they're establishing their bona fides quite nicely.

Still, I can't quite get past the notion that their bubble is about to burst, and we're the ones holding the pin. After all, it was roughly seven months ago that we delivered an epic win at St. James's Park, with Koscielny scoring to secure a fourth-place finish, despite the ruse that had a certain North London-ish club delusionally celebrating a fourth-place finish of its own, but I digress.

Come Sunday, we might see the return of one Laurent Koscielny, scorer of that all-important goal. Perhaps just as vital will be the continued return to form of Theo Walcott who, prior to that 1-0 away-win, delivered a hat-trick and two assists in a famous 7-3 win.

I won't go so far as to predict that Walcott or Koscielny will deliver performances reminiscent of the 2012-13 season, but the omens are auspicious: it was a year to the day that saw Walcott claim his hat-trick and two assists, including the "was I tripped? No? Okay, I'll score anyway" goal. Koscielny's goal against Newcastle, the one that seized a 16th consecutive Champions League qualification, came on a set-piece that Walcott took and that Podolski headed on for Koscielny to finish.

I'm not suggesting that we'll see a similar sequence on Sunday, but the stars do align to a certain degree: each of the key-players—Walcott, Podolski, Koscielny—is back from injury. In other words, without quite committing myself to any specific predictions, I do see this trio teaming up in one way or another, the exception being that, instead of claiming a fourth-place trophy, they'll put us back atop the Prem.

Prediction? A 2-1 win, with goals coming from—you guessed it—Walcott and Podolski.