By Rob Kelly
“The crowd is absolutely magnificent up north, especially at Newcastle, and they always stand behind their team. They are always games played with a lot of commitment and at a very high pace.” - Arsene Wenger
Such is the nature of the Premier League that, having come through a thoroughly searching - at times uncomfortable - examination at the hands of Liverpool, Arsenal are staring down the barrel at another just a few days later.
The Gunners head to the North East on the back of a bruising encounter at Emirates Stadium on Monday night.
Not only was it a physical test, but a mental one too - in particular for the new-look central defensive pairing of Calum Chambers and Gabriel.
That they came through unscathed and boasting a clean sheet it says a lot about their character. And with continued doubts over the fitness of both Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker ahead of the trip to St James’ Park, they will need to steel themselves for more of the same this weekend.
|Newcastle: Sissoko (doubt - groin)
Arsenal: Mertesacker (doubt - illness), Koscielny (doubt - back), Rosicky (knee), Welbeck (knee), Wilshere (ankle)
“The crowd is absolutely magnificent up north, especially at Newcastle, and they always stand behind their team,” Arsene Wenger told Arsenal Player. “They are always games played with a lot of commitment and at a very high pace.
“Both [Chambers and Gabriel] have the potential to play at the top, top level. Chambers had a difficult start but he has shown his mental strength.
"I know he’s a great player and he has shown that if even if things don’t start as well as you would like, he can stabilise his game and respond. He has a great mental strength on top of his talent. Gabriel has shown great talent as well and has done very well.”
ONE TO WATCH
While much of Monday’s post-match focus fell on Chambers and the way he responded to his difficult first half, Wenger was particularly pleased with the way Gabriel performed.
The Brazilian has had to wait patiently for first-team chances since his arrival from Villarreal in January, but his performance against Liverpool underlined his quality.
Not only did he make a number of important recovery tackles in the first half, but he showed the leadership qualities to help push his younger centre-half partner higher up the pitch in the second period.
“He’s a fighter and he has great pace,” Wenger said. “He has natural instinct for a defender, also in the tackle as well, and his recovery runs are absolutely fantastic. He will be a great asset for the club.”
Newcastle fans have always appreciated those players who bring an injection of flair to the side, from Faustino Asprilla and David Ginola through to Hatem Ben Arfa.
|Olivier Giroud has scored eight goals in six Premier League appearances against Newcastle; more than against any other team
The Frenchman has netted five headed goals against the Magpies from just five headers on target
The Gunners are unbeaten in the last nine Premier League games against Newcastle (W7 D2), winning the last seven in a row
If recent performances are anything to go by, Florian Thauvin could be the next cult hero they take to their hearts. The 22-year-old joined from Marseille this summer, having lit up Ligue 1 with a series of exciting performances last term.
Thauvin made a big impact on his home debut in midweek too, scoring once and claiming three assists as Newcastle beat Northampton in the Capital One Cup. He is a player Wenger admires, and remains wary of.
“He’s a left-footed player who likes to run at people and has good physical qualities, good pace - he’s a very spectacular player,” the manager said.
“He’s a promising young player from France and we’ve seen in recent years that Newcastle is maybe the second-best French club, number-wise. They have bought many French players. He’s one of the promising talents.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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