Venge­ful Mag­pies await Gun­ners

St James’ Park will be ‘rock­ing and rolling’ in an­tic­i­pa­tion of visit from log-lead­ing Arse­nal

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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

GALLO IM­AGES

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.

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