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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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By ESPN Staff

Newcastle cautious over Owen injury scare

Michael Owen's groin problem will be closely monitored by Newcastle as he attempts to avoid another bout of surgery.

The 27-year-old striker has been included in the squad for Sunday's Premier League clash with West Ham at St James' Park six days after limping off with a tight groin during the 1-0 defeat at Derby.

That may allay fears that the England frontman needs an operation to repair a hernia for now, with vital Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia coming up next month.

However, Magpies manager Sam Allardyce admits it is a situation which will have to be carefully managed to ensure Owen does not succumb once again.

He said: 'When anybody gets anything where there is a slight tightening, then it's the beginning of a warning sign to say you need to make sure you find out what the problem is and then sort the problem out.

'You would manage that area more cautiously than anything else, and then take a view on a week-by-week basis and see how things are.

'Hopefully, going into Sunday's game, he is okay. He has recovered from Monday night's match because we brought him off sooner rather than later, and we go from there.

'Hopefully he gets through Sunday's game with no more discomfort, and if he does, we have to manage that from there on and see how we go.'

Allardyce has been adamant all week that talk of surgery was premature after the player's early exit at Pride Park.

A scan on Tuesday showed no lasting damage, but it came as a relief when Owen was able to train today with no problems, although his manager is taking nothing for granted in the longer term.

He said: 'We will be guided by the scan and that is not showing that Michael needs an operation. He trained today and he is fit for selection on Sunday.

'But that is not to say that persistent groin trouble will not turn into a hernia, and if he does need an operation, we will decide about it then.'

There was further good news on the injury front for Allardyce when Owen's strike-partner Mark Viduka was passed fit after suffering a hamstring injury in the 1-0 win over Wigan a fortnight ago.

The 31-year-old is included in the squad and will battle it out with Owen, Obafemi Martins and Shola Ameobi for a place in the starting line-up.

Allardyce said: 'It's a good option - Obafemi Martins is a good option as well, and it's a difficult area for me because there is a lot of frustration in Oba at the moment.

'The difficulty is playing Oba and Michael together, does that disrupt the rest of the team? Maybe, and do I know them well enough yet? No.'

Meanwhile, £5.8million summer signing Joey Barton can finally set his sights on a competitive debut for the Magpies after returning to training from a fractured metatarsal.

The 24-year-old is back in training and although he still has some way to go before he reaches match fitness, his time is fast approaching.

Allardyce said: 'He has started a little bit of football work on his own, which is obviously very pleasing for him more than anybody else.

'It's nice to get a feel of the ball and start kicking it again.

'No doubt we will have to hold him back and make sure the medical team push him along the right way and not do it too quickly.

'I think he is going to be okay. We just have to do every session with him and if there is no discomfort in that area, then we will push on a little bit further and a little bit further each day.'