Newcastle United boss Eddie Howe plays down Arsenal rivalry ahead of Emirates clash

Newcastle United boss Eddie Howe believes Saturday's encounter with Arsenal is not a "grudge match" despite the Magpies controversial victory in November. Credit: PA/ITV Tyne Tees

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has played down suggestions that Saturday's match with Arsenal will be a "grudge match" after the Magpies controversial 1-0 win in November's reverse fixture.

Anthony Gordon's winner was subject to three separate VAR checks before it was given - a decision Gunners boss Mikel Arteta labelled as “embarrassing” and a “disgrace”.

Other incidents, involving red cards not given to Kai Havertz and Bruno Guimarães, also split opinions and added to an already tense affair.

Yet Howe believes the rivalry between the two sides is no different to the rest of the league as he praised his opposite number for the work he has done at the Emirates.

Anthony Gordon's strike split the two teams in the reverse fixture at St James' Park in November. Credit: PA

"I don't know," Howe said when asked if the game was something of a grudge match. "The last game made headlines, that's the best way of putting it for what happened with the goal and everything that happened afterwards.

"I don't know if we look at it that way. We just look at it like another opponent to try and beat.

"We analyse them forensically to find the best way to get a result. I'm sure for Arsenal it's exactly the same.

“Mikel is a very passionate guy, he will defend his team. I am the same, I will defend my team. I like to think there is a lot of mutual respect between us both.”

The Newcastle head coach admits his side will need to be on their best form to beat the title challengers who have won their last two Premier League games by an aggregate score of 11-0.

Eddie Howe has been full of praise for opposite number Mikel Arteta. Credit: PA

The Magpies have conceded eight across their last three matches and this is a record Howe admits must improve for any points to return to Tyneside.

"Certainly we will need to replicate close to our best performance in order to get something from the game," he said. "I think we have had some really good games against Arsenal in recent seasons and they have been very tight affairs.

"Defensively we're going to need to improve from what we have been in recent weeks. Arsenal this season are statistically one of the best teams in the league and are rightly where they are in the table so it is a big challenge for us."

Newcastle may be able to call on the services of former Arsenal midfielder Joe Willock for the first time since November after he stepped up his recovery from an achilles injury while Alexander Isak may also return to contention after a groin problem.

Kick-off at the Emirates on Saturday is at 8pm.

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