By Nick Ames

Robin van Persie believes Newcastle deserve their place among the Premier League's leading lights.

Sitting in sixth position - five points behind the Gunners - ahead of tonight’s game at Emirates Stadium, Alan Pardew's side have proved themselves genuine contenders for a Champions League spot despite having to reshape their squad over the past 12 months.

Speaking in Monday's Official Matchday Programme, Van Persie expressed his admiration for Arsenal's next opponents.

“We last faced Newcastle on the first day of the season – a goalless draw was a fair result and not a lot really happened,” he recalled.

“Since then, they have really picked up and we all know that they can be rated as one of the top six teams in the Premier League. They’ve proved it during the season and have made that final step towards the top teams - we all respect that and appreciate what they’ve done.

“For me, they’ve always been a sleeping giant with a fantastic stadium, amazing fans and lots of good players, but they endured a few years where things didn’t really seem to work out for them.

"Now, though, they have a good manager, very sharp strikers and talented midfielders - in all, a hardworking team with a couple of exceptional players.

“It will be a hard game but one that we await keenly,” added Van Persie. “If we win, we can take a big step towards our target - which has to be third place in the league.”

  • Read Robin's full captain's notes in Monday's Official Matchday Programme. Click here to subscribe
Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 12 Mar 2012