Aaron Ramsey leaves the pitch injured during the match between West Ham United and Arsenal on December 26. Photo: AFP
Arsenal fears that it will be without top scorer Aaron Ramsey for at least the next four weeks.
Ramsey was waiting on Friday for the results of a scan on the thigh injury he sustained in the 3-1 Boxing Day win against West Ham United. Should the scan reveal a tear, then he could be out for six to eight weeks, but Arsenal is hoping the injury is just a strain.
Losing Ramsey for any extended period is a blow to Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger. The 23-year-old Welshman has been enjoying the best season of his career, scoring 13 goals in all competitions.
Arsenal plays six games in the next month, starting early on Monday (Melbourne time) against Newcastle United at St James' Park. Jack Wilshere returns from suspension, and central defender Laurent Koscielny is expected to be fit.
Ramsey's absence will put an even bigger burden on lone striker Olivier Giroud, who has not scored since November 23. Wenger ideally plans to rest Giroud during the next week, with Arsenal facing three games in the space of six days.
Giroud will most likely sit out either the New Year's Day clash with Cardiff City or the FA Cup tie against Tottenham, and Wenger must decide between Nicklas Bendtner and the fit-again Lukas Podolski to deputise.
Podolski stepped off the bench to create and score a goal against West Ham, and is regarded by Wenger as a genuine option to replace Giroud on a short-term basis.
''I have never had a muscle injury before, so it was a new experience and not easy,'' said Podolski. ''I am happy to be back.''
Wenger has challenged Arsenal to keep the critics off its back by winning at Newcastle to end the year as Premier League leader.
Though the Gunners still haven't won a trophy since 2005, 2013 will nevertheless go down as one of their more successful years in recent memory.
Their points tally of 79 for the calendar year is the best in the Premier League and no rival can surpass that, even if Newcastle wins.
Arsenal regained pole position in the table from Liverpool on Boxing Day, thanks to the 3-1 win at West Ham after coming back from 1-0 down.
Yet the Gunners have still come in for heavy criticism at times this season, with a recent 6-3 loss to Manchester City sparking renewed claims that Arsenal doesn't have the mental toughness to win the league.
But Wenger believes the comeback at West Ham is further proof that Arsenal finally possesses the ingredients to go on and win the title for the first time since 2004.
''That was a kind of game that many people would have questioned us had we not won, and even more if we had lost,'' he said.
''We have another good game now on Sunday at Newcastle, who are in full confidence as well, so that will be another test. The team wants to do well and the character is great. The concentration is top.''
Wenger acknowledged fellow Frenchman Loic Remy poses Newcastle's biggest threat to his defence.
Remy has scored 10 goals this season and this fixture has often been a high-scoring one, with Arsenal winning 7-3 at home a year ago and the two sides sharing a 4-4 draw on Tyneside in 2011 when Newcastle came back from 4-0 down.
Telegraph, London, and AFP