01 January 2016

Against Newcastle, Giroud will rise head and shoulders above the rest...

Happy New Year, Gooners! We've earned a spot atop the table to ring in the new year, but we've been here before and know how fleeting the moment can be. Even with Chelsea's collapse, Man U's malaise, and Liverpool's lollygagging, our position is tenuous. On paper, we should have little trouble dispatching Newcastle, who are suffering through a truly monumental injury crisis with no end in sight. However, if' we're to make good on our ambitions, we can show no mercy and must make mincemeat of these Magpies.

Making matters worse for us, the match will be officiated by Anthony Taylor, who has, shall we say, flirted with incompetence on occasion. Last weekend, he was on the pitch when Tottenham won over Watford despite Son Heung-Min scoring the winner from an offside position. In a storyline sure to warm Gooners' hearts, Watford's Ake was sent off on a questionable red midway through the second half. With memories of our own encounters with dubious decisions still haunting us from our trip to St. Mary's, we'll have to do everything in our power to take the match out of Taylor's hands.

Manager Steve McLaren will be without the services of 12 players, chief among them Tim Krul and Papiss Demba Cissé, but the man deserves credit for continuing to wring impressive efforts of the bare bones that are left. Recent performances include a 2-0 win over Liverpool, a win 1-2 win over Tottenham, a tough 0-1 loss to Everton and another 1-0 loss to West Brom. For as much hay as we make over our injuries, that's a decent string of results. It's not that Newcastle are completely bereft of options. Players like Sissoko and Mitrovic can be mercurial, and the squad as a whole seems willing to fight in order to avoid relegation.

A player to watch for us will be Olivier Giroud, who seems to enjoy facing Newcastle. He's scored eight goals in seven appearances, heading five into the back of the net. Without Krul behind them, Coloccini and Mbemba may have their hands full in keeping the handsome Frenchman from scoring. Since erupting for six goals in four matches (including the hat-trick against Olympiacos), Giroud hasn't scored in the last two matches, but all signs suggest that he'll be the lynchpin on Saturday. Alexis is still recuperating, and Walcott seems off his game. Look for Giroud to bag a brace, one a header and one a close-range flick. I won't specify which will be at the near-post.

LAST 3
Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (29.08.2015)
Newcastle 1-2 arsenal (21.03.2015)
Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle (13.12.2014)

FACTFILE
Arsenal have won 11 of 14 matches against Newcastle.
Giroud has scored eight goals in seven appearances against Newcastle.
Arsène has bested McLaren in ten of eleven matches.

INJURIES
Wilshere, Welbeck, Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Arteta, and Rosický will all miss out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Gibbs, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Bellerín; Flamini, Ramsey; Campbell, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

Arsenal at home will be too much for this depleted squad to contend with.

PREDICTION 
Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle