When looking at the fixture list at the back end of 2021, you’d be excused for wondering if we’d already be down by the time Arsenal came to town in the middle of May.
Back in December, we were in the bottom three, six from safety – having played a game MORE than those above us – and stuck on just seven points.
No team in Premier League history had ever stayed up after failing to win any of their opening 14 games, so it felt like we’d stay up by the skin of our teeth on the final weekend of the season if we were going to.
However, here we are, safe with a few games to spare and in with a shout of an unlikely top 10 finish if we can win our final two games of the season.
Our record against Arsenal is pretty awful if recent history is anything to go by, with us winning just three of our last 42 games against the Gunners since the end of 2001. But things are different now.
Arteta’s side arrive with injury issues – they could be without three of their four first choice defenders – and the fear of bottling their push for a top four finish at the penultimate hurdle, knowing they could fall out of the Champions League places if Spurs (who face Burnley) better their result this gameweek.
Not only that, they’ll face a resurgent Newcastle United ready to end the season on a high in our final home game of 2021/22.
Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier are bothing pushing to start after late cameos at Man City, while Ryan Fraser is in contention to return from a hamstring injury.
Fabian Schar is fit again, but Jonjo Shelvey (calf), Joe Willock (knee) and Federico Fernandez (achilles) have all been ruled out.
For Arsenal, they are facing a mini crisis at the back. Rob Holding is suspended, Gabriel Magalhaes has a hamstring issue which could keep him out and Ben White is touch and go after missing each of their last two games.
Elsewhere, Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney are also out with long term injuries.
Predicted line ups
(4-3-3): Dubravka – Trippier, Schar, Burn, Targett – Guimaraes, S Longstaff, Joelinton – Almiron, Wilson, Saint-Maximin.
OUT: Emil Krafth, Jamaal Lascelles, Chris Wood – IN: Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar and Callum Wilson.
Howe may err on the side of caution with Trippier and Wilson, but he said on Friday they both feel ready to start – even if it’s his responsibility to make the right decision for the team while also protecting their gradual comeback from long term injuries.
I fancy both to start – even if they’ll only manage 70 minutes or so – and reckon we’ll also see Fabian Schar come in for Jamaal Lascelles if the Swiss international is fully fit again.
I don’t think Howe will risk Fraser from the start, however. He has trained recently, but rushing a hamstring issue could impact his pre-season preparations if we’re not careful. It may also be Almiron’s last chance to impress Howe – and his last home game at SJP if he’s sold this summer – so I see him getting another start.
Predicted Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale – Cedric, White, Tomiyasu, Tavares – Elneny, Xhaka – Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli – Nketiah.
I have a good feeling about this.
It’s our last game of the season, it’ll be an electric atmosphere and the players – and Howe – will be desperate to sign off in style at St James’ Park.
We have nothing to lose and could thrive in what will be a feel-good occasion on Tyneside, while Arsenal will be feeling the pressure and may well buckle if it’s one of those special nights under the lights on Tyneside!
Wilson to grab a goal on his return and Eddie’s Mags to dent the Gunners’ top four charge at the death after another spine-tingling display from Wor Flags!
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Arsenal