Club Focus – Newcastle United – Emirates visit for Hughton’s high-flyers

Newcastle United will be hoping to continue their impressive form of late at the weekend when they face title-winning contenders Arsenal. Sunday’s game at the Emirates Stadium brings together two sides who met as recently as just over a week ago. On that occasion a very much second string Newcastle side were swept apart 4-0 in an impressive performance by the Gunners. However the resting of key players worked out well for the Magpies as they produced one of their finest displays in recent years over local rivals Sunderland. This time around Chris Hughton will be selecting a much stronger team to take on Arsenal, who very rarely drop points at home.

Hughton could well be inclined to keep an unchanged starting XI as no player deserves to be dropped after an all-round excellent team display. But 4-4-2 is a bold formation to play against Arsenal who tend to dominate possession for large spells of a game. One factor in Newcastle’s favour is that Arsenal had a long trip in mid-week for their Champions League tie and also have some injury doubt over key players. Newcastle have few injury problems to contend with only long-term absentees Steve Harper, Dan Gosling and Hatem Ben Arfa sidelined. Defenders Steven Taylor and Arsenal old boy Sol Campbell are both likely to be included in the Magpies’ travelling party.

The chances of Taylor or Campbell featuring against Arsenal are slim, with Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini forming a good partnership for much of the season. Although the statistics show that Newcastle have conceded 14 goals in their 10 league games the pair have largely made few individual mistakes between them. It certainly represents the end of a long journey for Williamson, who spent half of last season playing for the reserves at a struggling Portsmouth outfit. The 26-year-old has come a long way since learning his trade with the likes of Torquay United and Wycombe Wanderers. Speaking about his lack of chances at Pompey last season Williamson said: “They were dark times. But they are behind me now. Now it is a totally different contrast going to the Emirates. That’s what makes all of those days when I was in the gym and staying fit worth it. It was hard. I was working on my own and trying to keep my head up, but this is the reward.

As goalkeeper Steve Harper aims for a return to full fitness around the festive period Hughton has few other concerns with his squad. Deputy Tim Krul has so far done a solid job between the posts but everywhere else there is a lot of competition for places both in the first team and to make the substitutes bench. Traditionally the club has always appeared to have suffered worse than most with injury problems but now the squad is looking stronger than it ever has – the likes of Ryan Taylor and Danny Guthrie were not even on the bench last weekend despite being fit. Hughton could soon face a problem to keep all his players happy especially after being knocked out of the League Cup. But the manager is relaxed about the situation: “ One thing that always happens is that opportunities come round for players – at some stage, they’ll come in for somebody else. That’s always the case.

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