Callum Davies

What: English Premier League
Who: Newcastle United vs Arsenal
When: Saturday 13th August 2011, at 17:30 UK Time
Where: St. James’ Park, Newcastle, England

Fresh faces

Following a turbulent campaign in 2010/11 which involved the sacking of Chris Hughton and the departure of Andy Carroll, the Toon Army will be eager to kick-start their season with a win over old foes at St. James’ Park. Last year’s meeting between the two was an action-packed encounter and arguably initiated the wilting of Arsenal’s English Premier League title challenge. Down 4-0 at half-time and outplayed all over the pitch, Alan Pardew’s men rallied to earn a point in the dying seconds.

Having brought in the new faces of Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and aiming to restore Gabriel Obertan’s career following a mediocre stint at Manchester United, Pardew has injected youth and pace into his squad in order to stabilise the club’s on-pitch fortunes, while off the pitch Newcastle never seem far from controversy.

With the Joey Barton saga seemingly behind them, the Magpies will welcome this home fixture in an attempt to gain some early season momentum. With the midfield prowess of Barton and Cheick Tioté, plus the height and physicality brought to the fore by Ba, Newcastle could be a handful for Arsene Wenger’s men, and cause an opening-day upset.

Answering the critics

Arsenal have responded to their failings of last season in somewhat peculiar fashion by spending little and, in an unsurprising move, allowing their captain, Cesc Fabregas, to head to former club Barcelona. All this is not what was expected from a team desperately in need of silverware. All seemed rosy six months ago; flying high in the Premier League, a Carling Cup final to look forward to against a struggling Birmingham City side, and a first-leg victory over Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16. Few would have envisaged the kamikaze plummet that followed.

Despite the disappointments, Arsene Wenger has brought in a decent foil for Robin van Persie in Ivorian Gervinho. His summer spending has also prised Carl Jenkinson from Charlton and young starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton in a big money move. The capture of 17-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain once again underlines Wenger’s transfer philosophy, and has left fans baffled as to why he has not yet signed someone with any Premier League experience to bolster their defence and midfield.

It must be taken into account however that the Gunners still possess a very talented squad. Of course, the possible departure of both Fabregas and Samir Nasri will leave a gaping hole in Arsenal’s midfield, but with Aaron Ramsey fit again and Alex Song so integral in Arsenal’s victory over Manchester United at the Emirates in May, betting against them would be brave.

Recent form

Newcastle United:
Leeds 3– 2 Newcastle United
(31/07; Friendly)
Columbus Crew 0-3 Newcastle United (27/07; Friendly)
Sporting Kansas 0-0 Newcastle United (21/07; Friendly)


Benfica 2–1 Arsenal (06/08; Friendly)
Arsenal 1–1 New York Red Bulls
(31/07; Emirates Cup)
Arsenal 2–2 Boca Juniors (30/07; Emirates Cup)

Key absences

Newcastle United: Steve Harper, Hatem Ben Arfa, Ryan Taylor

Arsenal: Cesc Fàbregas, Kieran Gibbs, Samir Nasri (doubt), Robin van Persie (doubt), Thomas Vermaelen (doubt), Theo Walcott (doubt), Jack Wilshere (doubt)

Players to watch

Newcastle United – Cheick Tiote: The Ivorian was barely known heading into last season’s campaign, but announced himself with the stunning equaliser in the 4-4 draw against the Gunners. His quick feet and command of midfield has caught the eye of numerous elite European clubs, but having signed a new deal at St. James’ Park, the Ivorian could be the key to unlocking a new era of stability and success at Newcastle.

Arsenal – Gervinho: Seemingly carrying the rest of the team on his shoulders towards the end of last season, Van Persie’s goals gave Arsenal hope while elsewhere a cutting edge was lacking. Now however, the weight of pressure on the Dutchman’s shoulders has been lifted following the capture of Gervinho. Having shown glimpses in pre-season of what Arsenal were missing during the last campaign – that being a potent attacking outlet alongside Van Persie – his pace and finishing ability could give Arsenal fans reason to cheer once more, and alert the other title contenders to the fact that the Gunners are still a force.

Match Prediction

Both clubs will be eager to signal their intentions right from the outset and Arsenal will not have it all their own way against the hostile backdrop of St. James’ Park. Newcastle will aim to use their new-found pace out wide and test Arsenal’s defence with crosses towards the big frame of Demba Ba.

Arsenal on the other hand will do what Arsenal do, pass and move. This could be a big declaration to the rest of the Premier League if Arsenal thrive without Fabregas or Nasri and if they keep a clean sheet, Wenger may ease the pressure on himself.

Overall, expect a cagey affair early on with both sides looking to impose themselves on the opposition. Arsenal will start strongly, but Newcastle will use Ba efficiently to cause problems for the Arsenal backline. Newcastle United 2-2 Arsenal.

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