Beginning the New Year as leaders of the Premier League on goal difference, Arsenal will remain there if they can win at home to struggling Newcastle United for the fifth season in succession.
The performance had a few nervy aspects, but on the whole the Gunners responded to their Boxing Day hammering at Southampton in ideal fashion with a fairly comfortable win against Bournemouth. After Gabriel Paulista had scored his first goal for the club to give them a the lead, it was left to the wonderfully in-form Mesut Ozil to wrap things up, finishing calmly after more delightful combination play with Olivier Giroud. If the German can continue in that vein here, his side should have few problems in taking the three points.
At the other end of the pitch there was also cause to celebrate, with a clean sheet for Petr Cech ensuring that he broke the existing Premier League record held by David James, an accolade he thoroughly deserves. Already a three-time title winner, he must be confident that he can be victorious again, and as has been said by many in the football community over recent days, this is Arsenal’s best chance to reclaim the title they last won in 2004.
Newcastle face another battle on their hands to stay up in the second half of the season, as single-goal defeats in both of their outings since Christmas leave them in the bottom three and two points from safety. After being deflated by a last-gasp Everton winner on Boxing Day it was always going to be hard to go again less than 48 hours later at West Bromwich Albion and although they managed to hold on for over three quarters of the game, Steve McClaren’s men could not hold on for a point as they rarely looked like scoring at the other end.
Goalkeepers on Tyneside seem to suffer from injury more than most, and Rob Elliot’s late withdrawal meant that Karl Darlow was thrust into the side for his first top-flight appearance. It was a difficult afternoon for the former Nottingham Forest star, and should he have to keep goal again here he will be set for a busy afternoon. In attack, Moussa Sissoko – who has so often been linked with Arsenal in the past – will provide their most useful outlet on the right flank.
Arsenal will hope to have Mathieu Flamini back after he missed the Bournemouth game, but they are still without Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin among others.
The away side have numerous absentees including Papiss Cisse, Tim Krul, Massadio Haidara and Gabriel Obertan.