How good are Newcastle these days?



By Myles Palmer

Kieron Dyer may start this game, having done well as a half time sub for Rob Lee in the 2-1 win over Blackburn on Saturday.

Little-known French winger Olivier Bernard drilled in a beautiful equaliser from 22 yards.It was his debut.He has been on loan at Darlington.

Alan Shearer has many partners : Craig Bellamy, Ameobi, Lua Lua, so nobody knows what Bobby Robson’s team will be tonight.

Ray Parlour may be back for Arsenal, and Pires might have recovered from his calf injury.

Parlour tanked through Bobby’s raw side last year, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-0 win on December 9th 2000.

Ljungberg still has a back injury – or he may be enjoying a well-earned break. Who knows?

We only know that Arsenal will miss his drive, his opportunism.When Freddie scores the first goal, Thierry often scores the second.

When Freddie’s not there, Arsenal sometimes struggle to grab the first goal.

Vieira, signing off before Sunday’s suspension, will be very keen to clinch three points. He can do that by scoring his first goal of the season.

The more I think about it, Patrick is wasted as an anchorman. He is too good to play in such a limited role, a job which suits the disciplined, efficient, tenacious Dietmar Hamann in a defensive side like Liverpool.

Hamann was badly missed when they lost 4-0 at Chelsea on Saturday.He would have protected exactly the area where Gudjohnsen and Hasselbaink kept getting the ball.

But Arsenal are an attacking team, not a belt-and-braces defensive team.

So maybe Arsene should be looking for an anchorman,rather than someone in the Petit/Edu/Van Bronckhorst problem position.

That way that he could release Vieira forward to link with Pires and Henry.

That trio is the heartbeat the Arsenal team now.And they can’t win games if those three do not play well.

Still, all that is somewhat hypothetical. He won’t sign anybody during the season and this may be Vieira’s last season anyway.

Arsenal have drawn at home to Bolton and Blackburn and another draw, following the 1-1 at West Ham, would be a severe disappointment. They need a win before Anfield. Simple as that.

It was the Ljungberg-Parlour-Vieira-Pires midfield that provided the basis for the wins over Man United,Juventus and Aston Villa.

But those friends may not be reunited before Chelsea at Highbury on Boxing Day.

Newcastle?

They have been improving all season and Gary Speed is scoring goals now.

For years I have thought Speed was a VASTLY overrated player. But he has scored three in his last seven games.

He must be doing something right because he has helped to push Newcastle up into third place.

Whether they deserve to be third we shall find out tonight.They have gone 29 games in London without a win. But they have won nine Premiership games this season. Arsenal have won eight.

AFTERTHOUGHT : The Newcastle player I like is Solano.

Always thought Solano was better than Beckham, even if he is a bit lightweight.

18th December 2001.