Do you want to good news or the bad news first?
Starting with the bad, Arsenal have won 17 of their last 18 meetings with Newcastle United. A horrible stat, but hopefully some extra motivation for the lads heading into this one.
Talk of extra motivation leads us nicely to the good news, with it confirmed on Friday afternoon that Eddie Howe WILL be in the dugout for Saturday’s early kick off at The Emirates – a huge boost that will be music to the ears for all involved!
After being stuck in a hotel room all week, watching our 3-3 draw with Brentford from afar, discussing tactics over the phone and watching all our training sessions in full while stuck in self isolation, the new boss will be on the touch line for the first time as Newcastle United head coach.
With last weekend’s performance being filled with positives and the players arriving into this one with another week of training under their belts, we’ll arrive with the sort of belief we’ve probably lacked all season.
I wouldn’t say the wind is in our sails just yet, however the confidence a good result here could give us heading into must-win games against Norwich and Burnley must not be underestimated.
This is a tough game, but also a massive opportunity to kickstart our season ahead of a huge month for the club.
Dwight Gayle is facing a late fitness test after feeling his hamstring in training, while Paul Dummett remains out with a calf injury – although it’s been reported he’ll be fit again in the coming weeks.
We have three walking the suspension tightrope heading into this one, as Callum Wilson, Matt Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles are all just a yellow card away from a one-game ban.
As for Arsenal, Granit Xhaka remains out, but Kieran Tierney could be recalled after Nuno Tavares’ shocker at Anfield last weekend.
Predicted line ups
(3-4-2-1): Dubravka – Schar, Lascelles, Clark – Manquillo, Shelvey, Willock, Ritchie – Joelinton, Saint-Maximin – Wilson.
(4-4-1-1): Ramsdale – Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney – Saka, Partey, Lokonga, Smith-Rowe – Lacazette – Aubameyang.
I can see us making two changes here, with the first one seeing Martin Dubravka replace Karl Darlow.
Darlow cost us against Brentford and will have had a non-stop 48 hours after just becoming a dad for the first time. Big congratulations are in order for him and his other half, but this feels like the ideal time to bring Dubravka back into the side – a goalkeeper who can add confidence, an air of calm, decisiveness and improved communication to our disorganised back line.
I’d like to see Fernandez replace Clark – who looks well off the pace – however I fear the latter will retain his place as he’s the only left-footed centre-back fit at present (and Howe seems to like balance in that respect).
I’m backing Manquillo to come back in. I like Murphy and feel he can pose a real threat now our wing-backs appear to be pushing up, but he’s naïve defensively and could really struggle against the double threat of Smith-Rowe and Tierney tomorrow.
Elsewhere, I don’t see anything else changing, with Shelvey and Joelinton two of our best players last time out and Joe Willock likely to start against his boyhood club.
I’m feeling hopeful we’ll sneak a surprise result here.
I fear our leaky back line may be the difference between one point and three once again, but I do back us to cause Arsenal problems at the other end.
The battle will be finding a balance. To commit enough bodies forward to do damage, yet maintaining the level of disciplinal and energy levels needed to stop Arsenal having a field day when we’re out of possession.
Wilson to bag a brace and Dubravka to impress on his return to the side (fingers crossed!) in another high scoring draw.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Newcastle
HOWE-AY THE LADS!