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Preview: Arsenal vs. Newcastle United

Sports Mole looks ahead to Saturday's Premier League match at the Emirates as halfway leaders Arsenal host relegation-threatened Newcastle United.

Halfway through the Premier League season and it is Arsenal who lead the way on goal difference going into 2016.

The Gunners, who are slight favourites over third-placed Manchester City to end their 12-year wait for the title, welcome struggling Newcastle United to the Emirates in their first match of the New Year on Saturday.


Arsenal

Mesut Ozil celebrates scoring his side's second during the game between Arsenal and Bournemouth on December 28, 2015© Getty Images

Arsene Wenger's men bounced back from the shock 4-0 defeat at Southampton on Boxing Day by seeing off Bournemouth 2-0 on Monday to move top of the table 19 games into the campaign.

Leicester City could have reclaimed top spot a day later, but the Foxes and City played out a goalless draw to leave Arsenal top on goal difference and three clear of their main challengers City.

The Gunners' victory three days ago was Bournemouth's first defeat in seven and largely down to Mesut Ozil, who continued his impressive form with a goal and an assist. The German, whom Wenger has likened to Gunners great Dennis Bergkamp, now has 16 assists this season, meaning that he is only four shy of breaking the Premier League record for a season set by another club legend in Thierry Henry.

Olivier Giroud set up Ozil's goal on Monday with a first-time flick, and although the Frenchman did not find the net against the Cherries, he will be confident of doing so against Newcastle. He has scored eight goals in seven Premier League games against the Magpies.

In fact, Giroud has managed five headers on target against Newcastle in the Premier League and scored with all of them.

At the other end of the field, Petr Cech's clean sheet against Bournemouth means that he now has a record 170 in the Premier League, one more than the previous mark of David James.

Overall in 2015, Arsenal won the most points (81) and matches (25) in the Premier League. They have lost just once in their last eight matches and picked up wins in six of those games.

Recent Premier League form: DWWWLW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWLW


Newcastle

Steve McClaren manager of Newcastle United gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park on August 29, 2015© Getty Images

The Magpies go into the second half of the season as one of the three teams in the relegation zone, having managed only 17 points in 19 games under Steve McClaren this term.

Although they are nine better off than rockbottom Aston Villa and five ahead of North-East rivals Sunderland, Newcastle will know that they are in a battle to stay up this season with sides above them seemingly finding their feet in recent weeks.

Swansea City, two points above them, have kept three straight clean sheets, while defending champions Chelsea, on 20 points, are still expected to claw their way towards the top half. The Blues are one of three teams three points above Newcastle, and Norwich City and Bournemouth seem to be more catchable teams for the Magpies, although the newly-promoted duo have lost just once in four and seven matches respectively.

McClaren's men escaped the drop zone earlier this month with impressive back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, but they have dropped back in with just one point out of a possible nine against Aston Villa, Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

They have lost the last two 1-0, on Saturday going down at The Hawthorns to a Darren Fletcher goal that Premier League debutant Karl Darlow let through his grasp.

An escape from the bottom three in the next few weeks might be out of Newcastle's reach, with the club's next five league games all against sides currently in the top half (Arsenal, Manchester United, West Ham United, Watford, Everton).

Recent form: LWWDLL


Team News

Gabriel celebrates scoring for Arsenal against Bournemouth on December 28, 2015© AFP

Wenger rested some of his usual starters against Bournemouth and it will be interesting to see if Gabriel Paulista keeps his place in central defence ahead of Laurent Koscielny after breaking the deadlock against the Cherries with his first Arsenal goal.

Elsewhere, Nacho Monreal and Joel Campbell could return, while Mathieu Flamini is also fighting to be fit in time. Star forward Alexis Sanchez is close to full fitness, but will not be risked on Saturday.

Newcastle, meanwhile, have the biggest injury list in the league and lost another player on Monday when Vurnon Anita limped off against the Baggies.

The Dutch midfielder has been ruled out of Saturday's match with a hamstring complaint, so Cheick Tiote is likely to start a Premier League game for only the sixth time this season.

McClaren threw his weight behind Darlow after the keeper's gaffe, but he may drop the former Nottingham Forest man if Rob Elliot overcomes a stomach bug.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Monreal; Chambers, Ramsey; Campbell, Ozil, Walcott; Giroud

Newcastle possible starting lineup:
Darlow; Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Dummett; Sissoko, Tiote, Colback, Wijnaldum; Perez, Mitrovic


Head To Head

Arsenal have now won eight successive Premier League games against Newcastle United and the Magpies didn't manage a single shot on target and made just one attempt overall in the 1-0 reverse at St James' Park in August that was settled by a Fabricio Coloccini own goal.

In the last 14 Premier League meetings between the two, Arsenal have won 11. In the other three games, the Gunners have had a player sent off and lost one and drawn two.

The last three league meetings at the Emirates have seen 18 goals scored, including a 7-3 win for Arsenal almost three years ago to the day in December 2012.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Arsenal 3-1 Newcastle

The league table points to a home win, as do all the head-to-head stats above. Wenger has won 10 of his 11 Premier League meetings against McClaren and another Gunners success here would come as no surprise.



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Mesut Ozil says coo-ee after scoring his side's second during the game between Arsenal and Bournemouth on December 28, 2015
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Wednesday's key events


ROWING
· Team GB have dominated the men's coxless fours in recent Olympics, winning on each of the last five occasions, but this year they face some stiff competition. They are one of four rowing medal contenders for Great Britain today (2.10am)

SWIMMING
· Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus face off again in the women's 200m freestyle final, with the latter having already come out on top in the 400m event (2.41am)
· Team GB's Abbie Wood is among the medal contenders in the women's 200m individual medley final, while teammate Alicia Wilson will also take part. USA's Kate Douglass was the fastest qualifier, while world and Olympic record holder Katinka Hosszu is also involved (3.45am)
· Katie Ledecky could make it two golds in one morning as she goes into the 1500m freestyle final as heavy favourite, having broken the Olympic record in qualifying (3.54am)
· Team GB were by far the fastest qualifiers for the men's 4x200m freestyle relay final and will therefore be favourites for another gold in the pool (4.26am)

RUGBY SEVENS
· Team GB take on New Zealand in the first men's semi-final, having been beaten by reigning champions Fiji but then come from behind to overcome USA on day two (3am)
· The sevens gold medal match takes place at Tokyo Stadium, with the winner of Great Britain vs. New Zealand taking on either Argentina or Fiji (10am)

ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS
· Joe Fraser and James Hall compete for Team GB in the men's all-around final (11.15am-2.10pm)

CYCLING
· Anna Shackley will take part in the women's road time trial (from 3.30am)
· Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart have medal ambitions for Great Britain in the men's road time trial, although both will need to recover from the crash they suffered on Saturday (6am)

DIVING
· Jack Laugher bids to retain his men's 3m synchro diving title alongside new partner Daniel Goodfellow (7am)

EQUESTRIAN
· Charlotte Dujardin will look to add to her already legendary status with a third successive Olympic individual dressage title (9.30am-1.25pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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