Newcastle set to drop Owen as Hughton plays safe

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The Independent Football

Michael Owen is expected to be dropped by Newcastle United today for their Premier League game against Arsenal at St James' Park.

Owen returned from injury last week at Hull City last Saturday after six weeks out with an ankle problem and lasted 73 minutes before being substituted. However, caretaker coach Chris Hughton is expected to play a defensive 4-5-1 formation against Arsenal this evening with Obafemi Martins the lone frontman.

There have been rumours of a bust-up between Owen and Hughton, but this is understood not to be the case and Owen has agreed to begin tonight's match on the bench.

Hughton is entering a run of vital games that will go a long way in determining whether Newcastle stay up before he is scheduled to hand back control of the team to Joe Kinnear, who is recovering from heart surgery. "Irrespective of whether Joe is here or not, we are looking at each of these nine games and the quicker we can get some points and alleviate a bit of that pressure and also create a little bit of a gap, the better," Hughton said. "If I am able to hand over to Joe in a good position, that is vitally important."

Meanwhile, Arsène Wenger said yesterday he had no intention of preventing non-playing members of his Arsenal squad from going on to the pitch at the end of matches to celebrate with their team-mates. The Arsenal manager also reiterated his belief that Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas was innocent of the allegation that he spat at Hull City's assistant manager, Brian Horton, in the aftermath of Tuesday's acrimonious FA Cup quarter-final at the Emirates Stadium.

"He [Fabregas] is the club captain. He denies, categorically, the incident," Wenger said. "We are open to any inquiry by the Football Association if they want to take the matter further."

Fabregas was sitting behind the home dug out, in an area known as the "paddock", during the match, along with other injured or non-selected players, and went on to the pitch at the end, becoming involved in heated exchanges with Hull staff.

One of the complaints of the Hull manager, Phil Brown, was the way in which Fabregas – in jeans and a hoodie top – was dressed but Wenger has never insisted on a dress code of a club suit or tracksuit for his players, as some managers do.

He confirmed that he did not have any intention of stopping Fabregas from going on to the pitch in future. "We want team-spirit, the players to be together, the players who do not play to be happy and to share it with the players who played. You cannot say 'that's it. Do not turn up'," Wenger added.

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