Gunners aim to bolster title bid at Newcastle

London: Second-placed Arsenal can close the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester United by winning at Newcastle on Saturday.

Victory for Arsenal at St James` Park will cut United`s advantage to two points, although Sir Alex Ferguson`s side will have the opportunity to restore that to five again by winning the day`s late kick-off game, at bottom club Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Robin van Persie, Arsenal`s Netherlands forward, was hoping United`s unbeaten run, which has seen then win 15 and draw nine of their 24 league games this season, would soon end.

"I`m confident Manchester United will drop points -- 100 percent," he declared. "They have got big games coming up, the (Manchester) derby, Chelsea and other big games."

However he added: "It`s vital to keep looking at yourself, because we all know Chelsea`s schedule and Manchester United`s schedule.”

"But the main thing is to look at our own schedule, we have a tough opponent on Saturday in Newcastle away."

Whatever happens, Arsenal will have at least arrived in the north-east in impressive form, having won their last six matches in all competitions, with a 2-1 home victory over Everton on Tuesday their most recent success.

Those three points were not accrued without controversy, however, with Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas accused of having made derogatory comments about the match officials.

Everton manager David Moyes insisted Fabregas should have been sent off for directing "disgusting" comments at half-time to referee Lee Mason and his assistants, who had controversially allowed an Everton goal that had appeared to be offside.

Unsurprisingly, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who will be without goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski for the rest of the season as he needs shoulder surgery, was quick to defend his man, claiming the Spain midfielder was being "picked on".

"We are long enough in the job to know that somebody picks on you for a while, and you are in the heat of the moment," the Frenchman said.

"But for me what is the most important is the player behaves well.”

"When Cesc is on the pitch, he tries to play football -- I cannot say everybody who plays against him tries to do that.”

"Overall this guy is an example on the football pitch and shows you how to play football."

Newcastle will not go into the game in the best of shape, having lost 1-0 at Fulham on Wednesday and seen star striker Andy Carroll depart for Liverpool for 35 million pounds on transfer deadline day.

However, the England cap -- who scored the winner at the Emirates Stadium earlier in the season -- is injured and would not have played anyway.

Newcastle will kick-off in tenth place but manager Alan Pardew was mindful of the fact that just six points separate his side from a relegation zone currently occupied by West Ham, Wigan and Wolverhampton.

"We have 30 points and we have to reach 40 quickly -- it is as simple as that," he said.

"That is the only way we can look at it now. We need to do that as quickly as we can, so it is all about Arsenal at home now.”

"It is a cliche, I know, but it is true, the next game is vital. We need to make a good account of ourselves against Arsenal and in front of our home fans at St James` Park."

Bureau Report

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