I have come to the conclusion that Christmas week is the fastest week of them all. Four days with the grand’holics have gone in the blink of an eye. When we completed our last fixture at Wigan we were third in the Premier League. Now we are seventh. Thank you Aslef members. I hope you enjoyed your paid holiday.
Those unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter will know I am already in the mood for the home game with Newcastle United. Last night I stumbled upon the highlights video of our 5-3 home win in 1976 on YouTube. The memories flooded back. I was at the back of the Clock End that day with the old man and a couple of his friends. We were surrounded by Geordies, but celebrated our goals as they celebrated theirs. That day they brought more to Highbury than I can ever remember us taking up there. They all wanted to see Supermac on his first appearance against the club where he had been idolised. His hat-trick, and the mixed reception it received at our end, will long live in the memory.
The ensuing thirty-six years have been kinder to us than the Geordies, it is fair to say, but there was precious little between us last season. Five points eventually separated us in third from them in fifth place. One of the surprises of this term has been their failure to kick on from that solid platform, although injuries have had quite an effect on their season to date. Anybody who saw them almost get a result at Old Trafford on Boxing Day will know they still have plenty of punch in attack, but will offer up chances at the other end.
The visitors have lost Williamson from that match through suspension, and Anita has joined the lengthening list of walking wounded that includes Gutierrez, Cabaye, Ben Arfa, and Taylor. The combative Tiote returns after suspension and it could be interesting when he and Jack Wilshere have designs on the ball at the same time. Despite his public declaration that we are not pursuing Demba Ba, I’m sure Arsene will have had a very close look at the Newcastle striker who seems destined to depart St James Park sooner rather than later. Dodgy knees or not, he may provide an option in an area where we are not currently blessed with riches.
For Arsenal, we are close to a clean bill of health, although Abou Diaby and Andre Santos will not return to training until next week. Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud are added to those who scrapped for a win at Wigan. I suspect the latter will get a start.
Surprisingly, given their spirited display in Manchester, Newcastle are without an away win this season, and with just six points gained from their last nine fixtures the bookies rate them no better than sixes or sevens to win this one. Mindful of the tough time we had pipping them 2-1 in the corresponding fixture last season I am tempted by another close, but perhaps more open encounter. 3-2 to Arsenal is a very tempting 29/1 with Gunners Gaming. I am definitely having a little bit of that. The only thing that could scupper the bet is if Tim Krul is allowed by Chris Foy to waste as much time as he did last season, when the ball appeared to be in play for only about seventeen of the ninety minutes. That’s what it felt like, anyway.
The late kick-off allows plenty of times for friends old and new to congregate in the fine taverns around the Grove and get the vocal chords lubricated. You know three thousand Geordies will give their side strong backing. Hopefully we will respond and create the sort of atmosphere that a meeting between two old rivals deserves. In 170 previous meetings, the first being a 2-2 draw in 1893, we have both won 66. Let’s hope we will be celebrating having taken a slender advantage after the match.
If you are going I hope to see you in the usual place. If you are watching elsewhere there should be plenty of good streams available as the game is being broadcast here by ESPN. Unfortunately the quality of the commentary and punditry won’t match that of the pictures, but that is the nature of the broadcaster, unfortunately. Them having the live broadcast and Match of the Day with the highlights package is about as poor as it gets. Never mind.
Have a great weekend, ‘holics.
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