Vengeful Magpies await Gunners
St James’ Park will be ‘rocking and rolling’ in anticipation of visit from log-leading Arsenal
EXACTLY a year to the day since losing 7- 3 at Arsenal, resurgent Newcastle United can move into the top four of the Premier League if they exact revenge for that painful defeat at St James’ Park tomorrow.
The Gunners head to the north- east to face Alan Pardew’s in- form side as league leaders after winning 31 at West Ham United on Thursday.
Newcastle’s 5-1 demolition of nine-man Stoke City on Boxing Day was their eighth win from their past 10 league games and Pardew expects a cracking encounter.
“Arsenal are top of the league. That is deserved as they have been the best team in the first half of the season, but we are in great shape, our place will be rocking and rolling and Arsenal know it won’t be easy to turn us over,” he said.
Arsenal ended a run of three league games without a win with a come-from-behind victory at Upton Park to revive their title hopes as the closest race for years keeps up its relentless pace through the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The season reaches the halfway mark this weekend and Arsenal are top with 39 points from 18 games, while eight teams still harbour hopes of either a push for the title or the top four.
Manchester City are just one point behind the Gunners, followed by Chelsea (37), Liverpool (36), Everton (34), Newcastle (33), Manchester United (31) and Tottenham Hotspur ( 31).
Arsenal were boosted by the return of long-term absentee Lukas Podolski at West Ham and the German marked his comeback with a goal to seal the win.
The league leaders suffered a big blow, however, after Aaron Ramsey, their outstanding player this season, suffered a thigh injury.
“It looks serious, the Christmas period is certainly over for him but I don’t know how long he will be out,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
If Arsenal should falter at Newcastle, Manchester City, Chelsea or Liverpool could all go top.
City, who have won all their nine league games at the Eti- had with a goal tally of 37-6, are at home to Crystal Palace, who have improved since Tony Pulis took over as manager – they climbed out of the relegation zone for the first time since August with a 1-0 win at Aston Villa on Thursday.
But City underlined their title aspirations with a 2-1 win over Liverpool, a defeat that sent the Anfield side falling from first to fourth.
Liverpool face another tough task tomorrow when they travel to Chelsea who scored a nervy 1-0 win over Swansea City at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was upset after Thursday’s game.
“This team never lets me relax,” he said.
“They kill me every game. Every week I am tired. We should have been relaxed at halftime with a comfortable result guaranteed, but we weren’t.”
Everton lost the chance of going through 2013 unbeaten at Goodison Park when they had goalkeeper Tim Howard sent off in a surprise 1- 0 loss to bottom club Sunderland, but the Toffees will look to bounce back immediately at home against Southampton.
While the leading pack are all jockeying for position, the two teams hovering just below on 31 points appear to be heading in different directions.
Champions Manchester United chalked up their fifthstraight win after coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Hull City where Wayne Rooney scored his 150th Premier League goal for United.
They visit Norwich City today with a view to continuing their climb up the table with another three points against a side who lost 2-1 at home to Fulham on Thursday.
Spurs, playing their first match since Tim Sherwood was appointed full-time coach following the departure of Andre Villas-Boas, will need a big improvement on Thursday’s 1- 1 home draw with managerless West Bromwich Albion, when they play Stoke City at White Hart Lane tomorrow.
Meanwhile, two months after dropping him following a string of mistakes, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has hailed goalkeeper Joe Hart as “the best in England”.
England first choice Hart, 26, played his first Premier League game in nearly two months in the 4- 2 win at Fulham on December 21 and produced several outstanding saves on Thursday when City beat Liverpool 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium.
“He has worked very hard in the last month and a half,” Pellegrini said.
“He is the best goalkeeper in England.” – Reuters
HUNGRY FOR GOALS: Newcastle striker Loïc Rémy, regular goalscorer for his side, will be key to their chances of upsetting logleaders Arsenal at St James’ Park.