We may be playing a “big six” side, but this weekend feels like a huge chance to all but secure our Premier League status.
This was written before Fulham’s team time trip to Chelsea – a game they really need to win now they’re NINE points behind us and seven shy of fourth bottom Brighton as of Saturday morning – however that is one tough game for Scott Parker’s side.
Should they fail to win at Stamford Bridge, we could have the chance to move 11 or 12 clear with just four games to go. That feels very doable against a beatable Arsenal team.
Not only did they play on Thursday night in a Europa League semi-final first leg at Villarreal (and play with 10 men for a period), the Gunners could arrive at St James’ Park with one eye on next week’s second leg.
We can’t bank on that or underestimate them based on them being 10th in the table, but there can be no denying we are playing one of the poorest Arsenal sides we’ve ever seen at THE perfect time – especially when our top scorer also looks set to start for the first time since February.
Time to take advantage and take another huge step towards safety.
- Joe Willock – Ineligible for this one against his parent club.
- Callum Wilson – Set to start after Bruce confirmed he’s fully recovered and ready to play from the off.
- Matt Ritchie – A ‘slight doubt’ with a calf injury, yet Bruce seems hopeful he’ll be OK.
- Fabian Schar – Played 45 minutes for the U23s earlier this week and ‘might’ make the squad, says Bruce.
- Ryan Fraser – Recovering from groin surgery. Bruce said last week he’d be back in ‘two to three weeks’.
- Karl Darlow – Another who is expected to be back in the next week or two after an operation on his knee.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Likely to miss the remainder of the season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot.
- Isaac Hayden – Ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
For the visitors, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Tierney are all back in training so could feature, however it remains to be seen if Arteta will play it safe with all three and rest some key players who started Thursday night’s Europa League semi-final first leg at Villarreal. David Luiz is fit again and could play.
(5-3-2): Dubravka – Murphy, Fernandez, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie – S Longstaff, Shelvey (c), Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Wilson.
Joe Willock would’ve almost certainly come into the side had he been available, however he’s on loan from Arsenal and ineligible to play against his parent club.
This weekend the team practically picks itself – providing Matt Ritchie overcomes a calf injury. Bruce said in Friday’s presser that he was hopeful he’d be fine for this one, so we’re backing him to be OK.
The one and only change we’ve gone for from last weekend’s game at Anfield is Joelinton OUT, Wilson IN.
The Brazilian has scored in each of our last two home games against West Ham and Spurs, playing well in both, however he was wasteful at Liverpool. Not only that, Bruce practically admitted in Friday’s press conference that Wilson will come back in, stating the ‘time is right’ to give him starts after a series of substitute appearances.
With Wilson set to start, ASM in great form and safety now in touching distance, I fancy us to beat an Arsenal side who could have one eye on next week’s semi-final second leg against Villarreal.
They won’t want to lose momentum and suffer another confidence-knocking defeat, but they also won’t want to risk key players in a Premier League season that looks guaranteed to end in mid-table mediocrity for Mikel Arteta.
We got lucky defensively at Anfield and won’t have Willock to save Bruce’s bacon, however I actually have a good feeling about this one…
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Arsenal