Arsenal v. Newcastle United
Kickoff: 12:30PM ET, 9:30AM PT, Saturday, December 29
Emirates Stadium, just a short journey to the north of the London Wall, Londinium
Form: Newcastle WLLWL (15th) | Arsenal DLWWW (7th)
SBNation's Newcastle Intertubes: Coming Home Newcastle
Televisual Coverage: Fox Soccer
While every other team was frantically dashing from fixture to fixture over the last week, London's Boxing Day tube strike helped Arsenal to get an unexpected rest. One can only assume they opened some Christmas presents, they popped their Christmas crackers, and they ate themselves full of Christmas dinner.
But now, like the rest of us, it's back to work; Newcastle United come to London and face an Arsenal team that has won its last three games, some convincingly some not. Either way, though, Arsenal are in a reasonably good patch of form right now, and while they're not necessarily world-beating good at this point, they're playing much better than they were a month ago, and as we head into 2013, three more points would be a lovely way to wrap up a 2012 that doesn't do justice to the word "rollercoastery".
Newcastle, after last year's fifth place finish a lot of people's (including yours truly's) pick to threaten to join the Top Club Club this year (or at least be the next Everton), have, shall we say, failed to live up to that promise. Rather spectacularly. Currently 15th, five points off the relegation places, Newcastle have already lost nine games this year, after only losing 11 all of last season. It would seem that the Papis Cisses, the Hatem Ben Arfas, and the rest of Newcastle's relative unknowns from last year have been a bit figured out; Demba Ba has 11 goals this year (as opposed to 16 last), but he's pretty much their only source of offense right now (ONE MAN TEAM); the rest of Newcastle's goalscorers combined have also scored 11 goals.
Newcastle's other issue this year has been health. Yohan Cabaye's out until February, Jonas Gutierrez and Hatem Ben Arfa will be out until January, Vurnon Anita's reinjured his ankle and may not be available, and on and on. That would devastate any squad, but Newcastle have zero depth; when their first eleven gets hurt, it's down to teenagers, the boot room boy (is there still such a thing?), and one lucky winner drawn at random from all Newcastle season ticket holders.
By contrast, Arsenal are in fairly rude health at the moment - Arsene Wenger has pretty much everyone in his preferred starting lineup available for selection, which is rare and yet awesome.
Predicted starting lineup? Glad you asked! Here's one! Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski; Walcott.
FEARLESS PREDICTION: Arsenal, fresh off their week of eating leftover turkey and stuffing, start out really slow, and keep asking Newcastle to stop running so fast because they're getting that stitch in their side, you know, the one from running too much or whatever. Newcastle laugh at Arsenal's request, but in the process of laughing so hard at Arsenal being such babies, five of the Newcastle starting 11 pull various muscles, and with nobody on the Newcastle bench, Arsenal run riot.
They decide to bring on Gervinho to help build his confidence against a half-strength side; Gervinho is pulled four minutes later after missing his first 28 attempts at goal. Even without Gerv, though, Arsenal manage to score four goals and cruise to an easy 4-0 win.