Newcastle host Arsenal today at St. James’ Park, with the game set to get underway at 1:30pm. Newcastle are 10th in the table, while Arsenal are sixth.
Newcastle are more than likely safe at this stage. They sit in 10th, 10 points above the relegation zone with a game in hand and a significantly better goal difference than the sides below them. I think they can stop worrying about their safety now because they’ll be OK. I’m sure they would love another win to guarantee it though, and they would love to get that today against Arsenal. It’s a good opportunity for the Magpies, as Arsenal are shocking on the road. It will take a lot from Newcastle if they are going to win, but we have seen a lot from them in recent weeks and they’re more than capable of showing it again today.
They’re on a really good run of form at the moment, having won their last three against Southampton, Huddersfield and Leicester. Defeat to Liverpool is their only loss in their last eight Premier League games. They have been absolutely flying lately, and they have been really impressive. Rafa Benitez has done a great job up there, and their players have reacted to him and have turned up when they needed to.
Their fans can be absolutely delighted that they’re going to stay up for more than one reason as well. The sale of the club will likely be back on if they stay up, and they could finally see Mike Ashley leaving.
Rafa Benitez spoke about Arsenal, and told Newcastle’s official website: “Normally, as a manager of a team travelling, you might say, ‘Yes, my team could be a little bit tired.’ The other manager will say, ‘No.’ I have experienced both – when you play the Champions League and the Europa League and you play two games a week, you have to travel and you have all of these distractions, but at the same time you have a bigger squad.
“(Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang was not travelling so he will be available. Players who can make a difference on their own, they are fine. They are used to that so I do not see a big issue. Maybe someone will say, ‘They will be tired.’ But when you are used to playing two games a week, especially at this level, when you have a good squad, good players and a manager with experience, I don’t think it will be a big advantage for us.”
Newcastle will have a fully-fit squad today, with Islam Slimani available again after being ineligible against Leicester last weekend.
Arsenal have turned their form around lately, and are on a seven-game unbeaten run. They had won six in a row before they drew in Russia against CSKA Moscow on Thursday night. Spirits will be high for the Gunners, and they go into this one with some real confidence. But they still struggle on the road. They haven’t played an away game in the Premier League since March 4, when they were beaten by Brighton. They have actually lost their last three Premier League games away from home! But I don’t think their players will be thinking about that too much because it was so long ago and they have turned a corner since then.
This is still an Arsenal side that I have no confidence in when they play away from home though. They have only managed to win three games away from home in the league this season, and have been beaten eight times on their travels. It’s an unbelievably poor record for a side with the quality of Arsenal, and it’s simply not good enough. Maybe with there being no pressure on them today they’ll go out and get the win.
The league isn’t hugely important for the Gunners now, as they won’t finish in the top four. The Europa League is where it’s at for them at this stage, as they try to go on and win a European trophy and qualify for next season’s Champions League. But they need to keep winning their league games so they can keep some momentum going for their Europa League games. They won’t want to be going into next week’s game against Atletico Madrid after losing a couple. They need to keep their spirits high and stay confident.
Arsene Wenger said: “Honestly, it is very difficult. We land at 5am and we play Sunday morning. And the second thing that is very difficult is that when you play [in the league], everybody else has already played. Not only are you physically very jaded but also you are under huge pressure each time to win the game. It is maybe mentally tougher than physically.
“[Fatigue] is a little bit of a concern because for long periods now, with the League Cup in the middle of the season, it is a bit difficult. You look at [Manchester] City and they look a bit like that in the second half of games recently. Fortunately next week we can recover. I rotate as much as I can, unfortunately some players have to play all the games.”
Arsenal will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan today, who could be out for the next few weeks. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere both picked up injuries on Thursday so may not be risked. Wenger has been rotating a bit in the league anyway, so we probably won’t see Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey, who he has opted to rest. Alexandre Lacazette will likely be on the bench, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang starting up front. We could see Reiss Nelson given his second start too.
I think this could be an interesting one, and it really could go either way. Newcastle can definitely win the game against an Arsenal side that has struggled so much away from home this season. But Arsenal will be a bit more confident coming into the game, and should win once they turn up at their best.
The team news will be out at 12:30pm, and you’ll get that up here as well. Enjoy the game.