Newcastle Club Focus – Make or break for top four credentials

Despite the furore from last weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby failing to die down, Newcastle must concentrate on a crucial game for their ambitious hopes of a top four finish. Sunday’s derby game once again lived up to its billing as one of the most intense rivalries in the country, with the two clubs involved in a war of words in the aftermath. On Monday night, Newcastle travel to the capital to face an in-form Arsenal side. The Gunners are currently in pole position for the final Champions League spot, with five points separating the two sides. If they lose at the Emirates then it will be hard to see the Magpies making up the ground with only 10 games left to play.

Newcastle’s last two trips to London have not exactly gone to plan, with a total of ten goals conceded. With Arsenal starting to show signs of improvement following a difficult few months, it is not inconceivable that the Magpies’ goal difference will take a further dent. Alan Pardew must decide whether to continue with his attacking policy away from home or attempt to shut up shop and play on the counter attack. Against Tottenham, the four-man midfield was completely outnumbered and they could face a similar problem on Monday against Arsenal who rarely play 4-4-2. Another dilemma for Pardew is how to accommodate Hatem Ben Arfa in the team following his game changing performance in the second half last Sunday. The manager has often been reluctant to play his most creative player, but many fans feel he has earned a start on current form.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newcastle and Sunderland have been charged by the FA for misconduct in a game littered with incidents. The charge relates to a clash between players from the two sides following a late tackle from James McClean on Danny Simpson. It was one of a number of incidents that sparked controversy during the game. In comments made to BBC Newcastle on the day after the game, Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill was highly critical of their bitter rivals, suggesting that it could take some work to repair relationships between the north east’s premier clubs.

According to the club’s official site, Newcastle’s Mr Versatile, Ryan Taylor, has been rewarded for an impressive campaign so far with new contract to keep him at the club until 2015, despite his deal only due to expire at the end of next season. The 27-year-old former Wigan player has played in a variety of different positions, with his versatility making him a crucial part of the squad. He has also come up with some important goals, scoring the winners against Sunderland and Everton that showcased his technical skills when striking a football.

In further good news, the publication of the club’s annual accounts make for healthy reading. At a time when a number of clubs are in a state of crisis, Newcastle are getting ever closer to breaking even. For the 2010/11 season the Tynesiders recorded an operational loss of £3.9 million, a significant decrease on previous seasons. The wages to turnover ratio is also at a much more sustainable rate and suggests Newcastle are reaching UEFA’s financial fair play targets.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Arsenal v Newcastle

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