After two weeks away via the winter break, Newcastle finally return to Premier League action this weekend with a tough trip to the Emirates awaiting.
We arrive 8 games unbeaten, looking for a rare win in London against an Arsenal side who come into the game on the same number of points as Steve Bruce’s NUFC (31).
Believe it or not, we’ve won more league games than the Gunners this season (8 vs 6), however the home side have shown slow signs of improvement under new boss Mikel Arteta – and I expect them to be going all out for a win here after 4 straight draws.
They’re unbeaten in 7 in all competitions, but we’ve not tasted defeat since New Year’s Day and may well fancy our chances of an upset against a side we could leapfrog with a shock win at the Emirates.
(5-2-2-1): Dubravka – Lazaro, Fernandez, Lascelles, Clak, Rose – Hayden, Bentaleb – Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton.
In goal, Martin Dubravka is nailed on once again, but it will be interesting to see who Bruce picks at the back.
Lascelles seems nailed on when fit, but with both Schar and Lejeune fit again, reliable duo Federico Fernandez and Ciaran Clark have fierce competition.
Then at wing-back, we have Lazaro in contention to start – and I think he will. Yedlin’s final ball has let him down in our last two, but I fully expected the Inter Milan loanee to come into the side regardless, with Bruce likely to have guaranteed him regularly game time.
Down our left-hand side, it’s a little more difficult to predict who’ll start out of Matt Ritchie and Danny Rose. The former is fit again, but with him looking a little off the pace and limited since returning to the side, I see Rose getting the nod here.
In midfield, Shelvey is out once again, so two of Bentaleb, Hayden and the Longstaff brothers look will start. Sean must have gained real confidence from his superb display at Oxford, but Bentaleb and Hayden could be the more suitable option in a game where we’ll have large periods without the ball? That said, I wouldn’t rule out Sean Longstaff, Hayden and Bentaleb making up a midfield three with Saint-Maximin and Almiron up top in a 5-3-2.
In attack it’s pretty straightforward, unless Bruce makes the surprise tactical change mentioned just above. Saint-Maximin and Almiron are nailed on out wide, while Joelinton – who’s fine despite limping off after his goal at Oxford – is likely to be our only fully fit striker once again!
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Lazaro, Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark, Rose – Bentaleb, S Longstaff – Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side:
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – The striker who was once linked with a move to St James’ Park during his time with St Etienne. A few years on he’s Arsenal’s key man, with him scoring 14 in 23 for the Gunners this season. Devastating pace and even more devastating in front of goal.
David Luiz – Always good for an error or moment of madness, so a player we must put pressure on whenever possible. Hopefully Joelinton can get the better of his undeniably talented but erratic countryman on Sunday!
Gabriel Martinelli – The 18-year-old talent has been an absolute revelation so far this season. He’s started their last four games and has scored in 3 of those, with him bagging an impressive 10 times in his debut year in England.
Granit Xhaka – A player Bruce was very keen to sign in January, but the Swiss international has now regained a place in Arsenal’s XI following Emery’s sacking and Arteta’s arrival. It’ll be interesting to see how he gets on in front of the crowd who booed him off just a few months ago.
Both Joelinton and Miguel Almiron have been passed fit, despite both limping off in our last outing against Oxford.
New boys Valentino Lazaro and Danny Rose will both be pushing to make their first starts for the club, but Andy Carroll and Jonjo Shelvey have been ruled out.
Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto are rated ‘touch and go’, but look set to be named on the bench at best.
Javier Manquillo and Emil Krafth look set to miss out once again, while Paul Dummett and Jetro Willems remain out for the season.
For the Gunners, left-back Sead Kolasinac and midfielder Reiss Nelson are in contention to return, but January signing Cedric Soares, who arrived from Southampton, is out with a knee injury.
It’s hard to know what Arsenal we’re going to face here.
The fact they’re level on points with us and have drawn 13 of their 25 games this season should give us hope, but they do seem to becoming a little bit tougher to beat under Arteta.
With time running out and them cut adrift from the top 6, I see them being well up for this one knowing a win is essential – but our mindset should be similar in our bid to secure safety and push for a top 10 finish.
I think we’ll score, with ASM and Almiron capable of causing havoc on the counter, but fear Aubameyang and Lacazette’s quality in front of goal could be the difference at the other end.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Newcatle