Arsenal v Newcastle preview: Gunners look to cement top spot
By Pete Hall
Last Updated: 02/01/16 1:56pm
Arsenal look to welcome back Mathieu Flamini as they bid cement their position at the top of the Premier League against injury-hit Newcastle at the Emirates on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger's men managed to put the surprise 4-0 defeat at Southampton firmly behind them with a convincing display in a 2-0 victory against Bournemouth last time out, Mesut Ozil once again a pivotal figure.
Ozil's assists tally could increase yet further against Newcastle, who have won just once in the last 14 against the Gunners, and with a treatment room full to bursting, the Magpies - in 18th -appear to face a tough task at the Emirates.
Flamini sat out the recent win over Bournemouth with a minor ankle problem but could replace Calum Chambers alongside Aaron Ramsey.
Alexis Sanchez (hamstring) is pencilled in to return in the FA Cup next weekend while Jack Wilshere (leg), Mikel Arteta (calf), Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky (all knee) are missing.
Newcastle midfielder Vurnon Anita is out of Saturday's trip to north London. The Dutchman limped off with a hamstring problem during Monday's 1-0 defeat at West Brom and has become the latest addition to a lengthy casualty list which also includes goalkeeper Rob Elliot, who is battling a stomach bug.
Midfielder Rolando Aarons (foot) and striker Emmanuel Riviere (knee) are back in training, but keeper Tim Krul (knee ligaments), defenders Mike Williamson and Steven Taylor (both hamstring) and Massadio Haidara (knee), midfielder Gabriel Obertan (also hamstring) and striker Papiss Cisse (groin) are all out.
In the last 14 Premier League meetings Arsenal have won 11. In the other three games Arsenal have had a player sent off and lost one and drew two.
There have been 18 goals scored in the last three Premier League meetings between these two sides at the Emirates.
Olivier Giroud has scored eight goals in seven Premier League games against the Magpies.
Arsene Wenger has won 10 of his 11 meetings with Steve McClaren in the Premier League (L1).
Arsenal head in to 2016 having won the most points (81) and matches (25) in the Premier League in 2015.
Newcastle United have scored just six goals in their last 15 Premier League away trips.
Paul Merson's prediction
I can't see anything but an easy Arsenal win here. It was a bad result for Newcastle at West Brom, although I did feel for goalkeeper Karl Darlow as he had done well up to the goal.
It was so important Arsenal got back to winning ways after the defeat by Southampton. That's what champions would do, and they came through thanks to more magic from Mesut Ozil.
I think it will be a walk in the park for the Gunners, and Newcastle will probably look at this as damage limitations, making sure they do not get a good beating.
PAUL PREDICTS: 3-0 (7/1 with Sky Bet)
Arsenal are odds-on shots with Sky Bet to make a winning start to 2016 against 8/1 shots Newcastle, who are the biggest price of all visiting teams this weekend.
The Gunners are even-money to win the Premier League with Newcastle now 8/11 third favourites behind Aston Villa and Sunderland to be relegated. The Magpies have an awful record at Arsenal and have conceded 14 goals in their last three visits to the Emirates so it's no surprise to see the hosts priced at evens to score three or more goals.
Mesut Ozil set up one and scored the other in Monday's win against Bournemouth and the German is 2/1 to score in a home win.
Our Sky Sports pundits, Jamie Redknapp, Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson and Matt Le Tissier are unanimous in their backing of the Gunners. See their tips here.