Newcastle United-Arsenal Preview
Arsenal looks to have regained their form and are hoping to stay at the summit of the Premier League table as the Gunners continue their slog through the busy festive period by hosting Newcastle United on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium.
Last Saturday's 4-0 Boxing Day thrashing at the hands of Southampton served as a wake-up call as the club bounced back with an impressive 2-0 victory against a plucky Bournemouth side by collecting goals from Gabriel and Mesut Ozil. The win moved the north Londoners (12-3-4) to 39 points, ahead of second-place Leicester City on goal difference.
With the exception of that Boxing Day reverse, the Gunners have remained close to the top of the table by being stout at the back. They allowed more than one goal just five times through the first round of fixtures, and they are unbeaten (11-4-0) when they hold opponents under two goals.
In the attacking third, the Gunners like to do most of their damage in the opening 45 minutes as they have netted 17 first-half goals, trailing only Tottenham (19).
The club has also been remarkably efficient in the final third with 49 percent of their shots coming in the danger zone. Only 17 percent of attempts have come from outside the box.
Midfielder Mesut Ozil, lambasted by Arsenal fans and television pundits alike over the past couple seasons for seemingly not always giving 100 percent effort, has been on his game from the get-go this campaign and orchestrates the attack from the No. 10 role exceptionally well. The German international leads the league in assists (16) and is three assists away from his single-season career high (19) and four off the Premier League record (20).
He's made striker Olivier Giroud highly effective this season. Giroud has attempted 51, with only one coming from outside of the box. He also leads the division with 3.37 danger zone shots per 90 minutes.
Both will have to be on form against a tricky Newcastle side if they want to stay on top of a tight title race.
"Being top on goal difference doesn't make a big difference, it is just down to how well you play," said manager Arsene Wenger. "Your performances dictate all that and you have to be guided by your performances.
"After that it is reassuring to know that if your performances are right you do not need bad results from somebody else. That is one less stress. It is a bad thing in our job - we always want to be successful and we wish that the others are not. That is not a very good feeling in our position, but once you are first you can just focus on your performance.
Newcastle come into the contest looking to snap a three-match winless run in league play following a pair of 1-0 defeats to Everton on Boxing Day and West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
The skid leaves the Magpies (4-5-10) in the relegation zone with 17 points and in need of points Saturday.The Tynesiders have had their issues all over the pitch this season, leaving manager Steve McLaren scratching his head trying to figure out how to right the ship.
Newcastle's 2-0 win over Liverpool back in early December is their only clean sheet in their last seven league matches dating back to a 1-0 win over Bournemouth in November. The club is a bit offensively challenged as well, having been shut out a joint league-high nine times this season.
McLaren admitted his side has struggled and needs to find a way to stay out of the relegation battle.
"Absolutely, it has not been good enough and that is why we are in the bottom three," he said. I may seem calm on the surface but, believe me, underneath it I am paddling like mad."
Arsenal are looking to do the league double over Newcastle for the fourth straight season. They've won eight straight over the Magpies going back to a scoreless draw at St. James' Park in August 2011.