Newcastle about to crack their heads on Premier League glass ceiling
In this season of lunches and dinners, Newcastle host Arsenal on Sunday lunchtime, with the viewing public hoping for the kind of feast served up exactly a year ago, when Arsenal nailed the Magpies 7-3 at the Emirates.
And not a dish of cold leftovers.
While the rest of the nation works its way through the contents of the fridge, however, these two are facing a tougher interrogation of their stamina and ability.
Arsenal will find out if their title challenge is back on track after a win at West Ham ended a three-match wobble without a victory.
Newcastle will discover if their sparkling recent form, which has seen them win seven in nine, has instilled enough confidence for them to bring down the leaders, or if they are destined for a harsh illustration of their limitations.
Arsenal, with the joint best away record in the league, are 10/11 to win, Newcastle 3/1 and the draw 12/5.
Anyone tempted to see value in the Newcastle price, and it is tempting, given Alan Pardew’s side have lost only once at home this season and have just put five past Stoke, should start by reading the Goal Difference column.
For while it’s fun to read the top half of the table as a chaotic and open scramble for top four places, the GD figures provide a truer picture of where the real strength lies in the division.
Arsenal are on +18, Manchester City +32, Chelsea +15 and Liverpool +22. Newcastle, in sixth place, are on just +6.
The Magpies are scoring frequently – they’ve only failed to get on the scoresheet once in the last 16 games – but Arsenal are a machine on the road, scoring three goals in five of their nine away games, and only failing to score once, at Manchester United.
Furthermore, Newcastle do not have a good record against Arsenal, whom they have beaten just once in 12 league meetings, and have not won any of their last six matches against them at St James’ Park.
Geordie straw-clutchers will point to the fact that Arsenal are yet to record a single point away to top ten teams (P2, L2), yet the hosts have not shone against the division’s elite since returning to the top flight in 2010. In the past three seasons they have won just once a year against top four teams (last season they lost the other seven).
If results, including this one, go Newcastle’s way, they could end the weekend in the top four themselves. Do they belong there? The price of 20/1 for them to finish the season in the top four gives you a clue.