Manager Arsene Wenger says Arsenal must prepare for a battle and forget about Newcastle's poor recent form ahead of Monday night's clash at the Emirates Stadium. The Magpies have suffered five consecutive defeats to slip down towards mid-table and put scrutiny on the position of manager Alan Pardew, who will return to the dugout following a lengthy touchline ban.
By contrast, Arsenal have secured back-to-back defeats following their dramatic FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Wigan at Wembley to take control of securing UEFA Champions League qualification ahead of Everton, who lost ground after defeat at Southampton on Saturday. Wenger, though, urged against any sense of complacency.
"You know that Newcastle have quality, so of course we have to prepare like we will face a Premier League battle," the Arsenal manager said. "The exciting thing in the Premier League is that everybody fights for every game and we have to prepare for that. We have come back [with] a better display in our offensive quality which brings confidence, so that is what we want to build on now."
Wenger looks set to stay on at Arsenal next season, with agreement on a new contract extension expected to be a formality. The Gunners boss will be out to further bolster the squad over the summer, in an attempt to offset the damage caused by the loss of key men like Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil to injury which saw their title challenge fade at the turn of the year.
Despite the apparent need to strengthen in the summer, the Arsenal manager was effusive in his praise of midfield stalwart Mikel Arteta, who is under contract until 2015.
"I like Mikel Arteta because of his quality, his focus, his commitment and his 'winner' attitude. I have big respect for what he has achieved this season," the Arsenal boss said. "He is at that difficult age, but he is very conscientious, very professional and he has a couple of years left, yes."
Captain Thomas Vermaelen is set to be available again after sitting out the 3-0 win at Hull with a hamstring problem. Midfielder Abou Diaby made a welcome return from a serious knee injury when he played for the U-21 side in midweek, but will not be rushed back after reporting a minor groin problem.