Arsenal poised for unlikely Premier League top-three battle against Newcastle

Gunners currently enjoy seven-point lead at top of table, while Magpies aim to maintain momentum of previous 12 months

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Few would have predicted at the start of the campaign that a January clash between Arsenal and Newcastle United would see first place taking on third in the Premier League table.

The Gunners ended last season outside the top four, having been pipped for a Champions League spot by North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Newcastle spent half of the season in the relegation zone until a combination of the Saudi Arabian-led takeover of the club and appointment of Eddie Howe as manager helped propel the team to an 11th-place finish.

As the two teams meet at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, Arsenal find themselves seven points clear of second-placed Manchester City at the top of the table, with the Magpies third – albeit 11 points behind and having played a game more than Mikel Arteta's side.

Arsenal extended their advantage over City when the reigning champions were held to a home draw by Everton, despite Erling Haaland grabbing his 21st goal of the league season, while the Gunners defeated Brighton 4-2 on the south coast.

Their 14th win in 16 league games left Arsenal on 43 points – at the same stage last season, the Gunners trailed City by 12 points.

Newcastle 0 Leeds 0: Player ratings

“It sounds amazing,” said Bukayo Saka, who scored his seventh goal of the campaign at Brighton. “At the start of the season if you asked us if we wanted this, we would bite your hand off. We are really happy.

“It is a great opportunity – a great place we have put ourselves in,” the England attacker added. “We are not focusing on that now. We are focusing on the next game because we know how well Newcastle have been playing.”

Spanish manager Arteta insisted he was taking nothing for granted in the title race. “It’s still a long, long run to go,” he said.

“My excitement comes when I go in the dressing room and the players are talking about what they should have done better today.

“And that means that they know that we can still play better and be better, and against Newcastle we have to be better.”

For Newcastle, meanwhile, the transformation has been impressive considering they were 19th in the table this time last year.

Brighton 2 Arsenal 4: Player ratings

And it is a sign of how far they have progressed that there was a sense of frustration at the end of their goalless draw with Leeds United at St James' Park on Saturday.

Despite dominating the game for long periods, the Magpies were unable to find that elusive goal that would have secured a seventh consecutive league win.

And now taking on the league leaders in their own back yard will provide Eddie Howe's side with a good litmus test of where they are at.

“I think we’ll learn a lot,” admitted manager Howe, whose team are unbeaten in 12 matches – a run which goes back to August. “It’ll be a fascinating and high-level game.

“I’ve watched a lot of Arsenal this year and been hugely impressed, I think Mikel has done an incredible job. You look at the turnaround of the team and how they play, their identity is clear every week.

“Players look like they’re enjoying their football and playing a high-level game. It’s going to be a really good examination of how far we’ve come.”

Updated: January 03, 2023, 4:11 AM
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