• Premier League preview

Acid test for Newcastle at Arsenal

ESPN staff
December 28, 2012

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Much to Arsene Wenger's disappointment, Arsenal were out of action on Boxing Day due to a Tube strike. The continental contingent of his squad may not have been so upset and the Gunners will probably be more spritely than Newcastle in the early stages at Emirates Stadium.

Make no mistake the Magpies are in a bad way at the moment with injuries and the possible departure of star striker Demba Ba in January. A demoralising loss to Manchester United on Boxing Day, in which they took the lead three times only to lose 4-3, will not have helped.

A win for the Toon would be their biggest of the season so far.

Form: Since their disastrous loss to Bradford in the Capital One Cup, Arsenal have pulled their finger out with a regulation thumping of Reading and a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Wigan. The Gunners' 2-0 loss at home to Swansea may have happened almost one month ago but will be fresh in the fans' minds as they have only appeared once at the Emirates since then, when they beat West Bromwich Albion. Newcastle have only won two of their last 13 matches in all competitions and have won once in their past 10 meetings with Arsenal.

Key battle: Goalkeeper Tim Krul is up against Arsenal's all-round attacking threats - and Mikel Arteta's ability from the penalty spot. The midfielder has taken and scored three penalties in December and there are a few Gunners who are fast becoming experts in winning them. The Toon's defence is not as reliable as last season with a case in point being the 4-3 loss to Manchester United on Boxing Day.

Player to watch: Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard has had it easy this Christmas having been granted the winter break he wanted. If he finds the space he did against Reading, when he scored a hat-trick, Newcastle will find it incredibly hard to keep a clean sheet.

Talking point: Demba Ba's state of mind. Ba has scored nearly half of Newcastle's goals this season. With the Magpies lying in 15th, it's clear that his contribution is keeping his team from a relegation battle. His departure in January is a very real possibility for Alan Pardew as the striker has a paltry £7.5 million release clause in his contract. If he's scoring or being kept in good supply from his midfield he may put off a move until the summer.

Bet of the day: With so much speculation surrounding Ba and a potential switch to Arsenal, who else to score the first goal at odds of 9/1 with bet 365.

Prediction: 3-1

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