Fabregas under scrutiny as Arsenal meets Newcastle
Arsenal will head to Newcastle on Saturday with captain Cesc Fabregas under scrutiny while his team tries to maintain its Premier League title challenge.
Fabregas' form is crucial for a second-place Arsenal side trailing Manchester United by five points, but Everton manager David Moyes said the midfielder accused the referee of bias when the teams met this week.
Fabregas, whose conduct has previously been questioned amid accusations of spitting and cynical challenges, later acknowledged being upset by official Lee Mason's decision to award Everton an apparently offside goal on Tuesday.
Arsenal rallied to win 2-1 and keep in touch with unbeaten United, which is at last-place Wolverhampton Wanderers in another of Saturday's eight matches, but Gunners manager Arsene Wenger felt compelled to defend his most important player.
"Cesc has gone through a lot, difficult moments, but has always come out stronger," Wenger said. "This guy is a fantastic leader. He is 24 this year, he has played 250 games in the Premier League. At that age, it is absolutely remarkable.
"People are more demanding and Cesc has to live with that. It is not easy, but he is a very intelligent man and he will learn very quickly to cope with that."
Moyes said that Fabregas should have been sent off at halftime for accusing Mason of taking a bribe to favor Everton, but Wenger disputed his counterpart's version of events and questioned his conduct in talking about what happened in the players' tunnel
"When Cesc is on the pitch, he tries to play football. I cannot say everybody who plays against him tries to do that," Wenger said. "Overall this guy is an example on the football pitch and shows you how to play football."
Fabregas is in the squad for an Arsenal side unbeaten in its last four visits to Newcastle, but three other midfielders will be missing. Alex Song has a thigh injury, while Denilson and Samir Nasri both have a hamstring problem.
Newcastle is even weaker, having lost Shola Ameobi to a fractured cheekbone in Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Fulham - just two days after selling star forward Andy Carroll to Liverpool.
Also Saturday, third-place Manchester City hosts West Bromwich Albion after losing further ground on the leading pair with a 2-2 draw against Birmingham on Wednesday.
City will rest Micah Richards after the defender's clash of heads with teammate Nigel de Jong, who will take a fitness test before the game.
Also Saturday, Tottenham hosts Bolton, Sunderland is at Stoke, Aston Villa hosts Fulham, Everton hosts Blackpool and Blackburn is at Wigan.
Luis Suarez may start his first match for Liverpool against Chelsea on Sunday after coming on as a substitute in Wednesday's 2-0 win against Stoke, although Carroll is injured.
West Ham hosts Birmingham in Sunday's other match.