With their winter break now out of the way, Arsenal will host Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium later this afternoon.
Coming into this game, both of these sides are level on 31 points but both will be hoping to end the day on 34 points.
Arsenal head into this tie on the back of a five game unbeaten run in the league, however, only one of these games has resulted in a win.
This is progress, albeit slow progress, and gives Mikel Arteta a good foundation from which to push Arsenal on.
Similarly, Newcastle are currently on an unbeaten run of eight games in all competitions.
Steve Bruce has done very well to get this Newcastle side, who are riddled with injuries, in the position they’re currently in.
Ahead of the game, we’ve picked out the key battles that could decide the outcome of the match.
Mikel Arteta vs Steve Bruce
Arteta has steadied the Arsenal ship since he took the helm and the Gunners’ players look comfortable on the pitch. However, Arteta will need to motivate his players after a dour 0-0 against Burnley. The Spaniard will likely need to adapt his playing style to one that is prepared for a physical battle, as this Newcastle side could, like Burnley, use their physicality to knock Arsenal out of their stride. Bruce will likely have watched the draw against Burnley and could take inspiration from the Clarets’ performance.
Bukayo Saka vs Allan Saint-Maximin
Saint-Maximin only arrived in Tyneside this summer, yet he has become a bit of a hit with the Newcastle faithful. The French winger brings pure entertainment to whatever game he’s involved in. Possessing lightning-quick pace and a bag of tricks, Saint-Maximin can leave defenders in a trance with his extravagant footwork. This will be a challenge for the 18-year-old Saka. Due to injuries at left-back, the young winger has had to fill in in defence. Despite this, Saka has looked assured in this position and has shown no signs of a lack of confidence. Coming up against Saint-Maximin will certainly be a challenge for him though.
Granit Xhaka vs Nabil Bentaleb
Former Spurs midfielder Bentaleb returns to North London. He arrived on Tyneside from Schalke on loan last month and will bolster the Newcastle midfield. The Algerian is a commanding figure who is confident in possession, but he also possesses a strong left foot which can pick out teammates from across the pitch. Playing against a stubborn Newcastle defence presents Xhaka with a great opportunity to show his passing ability. Chances may be at a premium for Arsenal in this fixture, so the role that Xhaka will play in trying to unlock the Newcastle defence will be crucial.
Alexandre Lacazette vs Martin Dubravka
Lacazette comes into this game having not scored a goal since December. The pressure will be on him to end his goal drought, but this will be a tough task against a resilient and well-organised Newcastle team. In Lacazette’s way will be Dubravka. The Slovakian shot-stopper has arguably been Newcastle’s best player this season and he has been in inspired form.