Newcastle V Arsenal at St James' Park : Match Preview
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Wenger confident of passing test
Manager Arsene Wenger is confident Arsenal can again come through another severe test of their title credentials when the Barclays Premier League leaders head to Newcastle on Sunday.
The Gunners moved back to the top of the table after they recovered to beat West Ham 3-1 at Upton Park on Boxing Day, having gone behind at the start of the second half before Theo Walcott's double salvo and Lukas Podolski's crisp strike put the visitors back on course.
There is, though, little time for Wenger's squad to revel in their lofty position as the hectic festive schedule continues at St James' Park on Sunday against a team fast closing in on the top four following the 5-1 demolition of Stoke which was a seventh victory in nine Premier League games.
"Newcastle are in full confidence, they are doing well and won again on Boxing Day with a big score," said Wenger.
"Loic Remy is a very good striker, very quick and makes very good runs, so we have to keep him quiet.
"That will all be another test, but our team wants to do well, the character is great and our concentration is top."
Arsenal will be without Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey for the rest of the festive matches, possibly even the third-round FA Cup date with Tottenham on January 4, after he limped off at Upton Park with a thigh problem.
Ramsey is due to undergo a scan and Wenger will be hoping that does not reveal a muscle tear which could keep the Wales international out for a longer period.
Wenger, though, does have some options, with Podolski back from a four-month hamstring injury lay-off, while Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky was left out completely on Boxing Day and England international Jack Wilshere is back from his two-game ban.
"We have a very short time to prepare, but maybe we can rotate a little bit as well," said Wenger.
"I will have to make the right decisions.
"I rested (Santi) Cazorla for a few games and you could see against West Ham he had an outstanding game and what a difference that makes when the player is fresh.
"I rested (Tomas) Rosicky, (Jack) Wilshere will come back from suspension, so we will have two more options.
"We have (defender) Laurent Koscienly who can maybe come back as well, maybe who is fresh as well."
Rosicky feels the Arsenal squad will again be ready to raise their game against the Toon Army.
"Obviously it will be a tough game, but Newcastle will always give you a good match," he said on Arsenal Player.
"It will be very interesting, I love these kind of games, so I am very much looking forward to playing them."
Walcott is another Arsenal player to have recently returned from an enforced lay-off.
The England forward, whose abdominal problem needed minor surgery, chalked up his second brace in three appearances, and Rosicky believes the 24-year-old brings a different dimension to the Arsenal frontline.
"The goalscoring threat is the main thing with Theo. You can see he is a very good finisher," Rosicky said.
"Since I joined Arsenal - Theo came six months earlier than me - I have seen him grow from let's say the kid when he arrived.
"You could see that he would be good finisher [then], which is what he is showing now.
"He is a real threat in the box, has got an eye for the goal so it is very good to have him back because you never have enough guys like that."
Podolski certainly made an impact when he came off the bench to slot home a fine left-footed strike on his first appearance since a fourth-month break because of a torn hamstring.
Rosicky is confident the German can make an impact as the race for the championship hots up heading into 2014.
"The same counts now for Podolski who is different type of player, but he has got the nose for goal," said the midfielder.
"Guys like that, with a smell for a goal, you can never have enough players like that so it is very good to have him back and for the boss to have another option to the attack. That is all very positive."
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is happy to be dealing with a different sort of headache to the one which plagued him 12 months ago.
The 52-year-old will send his side into Barclays Premier League battle with Arsenal on Sunday, just as he did on December 29 last year.
But this time around, he will do so with the Magpies sitting in sixth place in the table and with competition for places as strong as it has been during his three-year reign to date.
That is in stark contrast to the situation in which he found himself last year when injuries left him trying to patch together a team and hoping against hope owner Mike Ashley would help him out during the January transfer window.
Pardew said: "Last year, it was difficult to try to find 11 players to play. At the minute, it's difficult to find players to leave out.
"We are in great shape and we take it into the next game. That's all you can do in my experience of this league."
Newcastle will welcome the Gunners to St James' Park having collected their seventh league win in nine attempts on an eventful Boxing Day with a remarkable 5-1 victory over nine-man Stoke.
That was achieved without midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote, who sat out through suspension, and his absence was exposed during the early stages as Stoke took full advantage before their hopes were dashed by the premature departures of Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson.
Pardew admitted afterwards that his team had misfired in the early stages against the Potters, and while Tiote's replacement Hatem Ben Arfa starred in an impressive second-half display, Tiote will return to the fold against Arsene Wenger's men.
Asked if he faced a difficult decision over his team selection with Tiote available once again, he said: "Well it is and it isn't because Cheick will play, there's no doubt about that."
The Gunners returned to the top of the table with a 3-1 victory at West Ham on Thursday, and Pardew knows only too well the talent Wenger has at his disposal, particularly among a pool of midfielders which includes Mikel Arteta, Mesut Ozil, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott, who scored a hat-trick in a 7-3 victory over the Magpies at the Emirates last December.
However, with Tiote and Yohan Cabaye - reportedly once again a target for Wenger during the forthcoming transfer window - also at the top of their respective games, Pardew is confident Newcastle can more than give them a game.
Asked about the Gunners good form, he replied: "Yes they are, but so are we and I think they will be as fearful of us as we are of them.
"We are at home and we will be expected by our fans to win the game."
Skipper Fabricio Coloccini played in that defeat at the Emirates, in which the scores were level at 3-3 with 21 minutes to play, but is certain the Magpies will make a better fist of things at St James' Park, where they lost 1-0 to the Gunners on the final day of last season.
He said: "We are looking forward to Arsenal as we have a lot of confidence. The spirit is very high and the team is working hard together. That's why we are going the right way.
"Arsenal are fighting to win the league. It's good, because we have played well against big teams.
"We try to play a similar way - we want to play good football. I think it's going to be a nice game to watch."
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