Riding high after making it four games without defeat, Newcastle United host Arsenal on Sunday hoping to extend their best run of the season so far.
The Gunners come into the game in typically topsy-turvy form. It looked like their season was improving when they beat Slavia Prague 4-0 in the Europa League quarter final two weeks ago, but a draw with Fulham, defeat to Everton and a loss to Villarreal on Thursday has once again put Mikel Arteta back at square one.
With the crucial second leg against the Spaniards looming on Thursday, Arsenal may have an eye on that game rather than the one at St James’ Park, as they sit tenth in the Premier League table, with European qualification looking dead in the water.
That will be good news for Newcastle, who can practically guarantee another year in the top flight if they win and move onto 39 points.
The two sides have differing luck with regards to injuries going into this one as well. Steve Bruce has Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson ready to start together for the first time in 11 games, having slowly introduced Wilson back into the team after a hamstring injury. Saint-Maximin has been in fine form since returning from a groin problem, and has one goal and two assists in his last three outings.
Fabian Schar made his return from a knee injury for Newcastle’s under-23’s on Monday afternoon, playing 45 minutes of a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. He could make the squad, but after 11 weeks injured is unlikely to get any time on the pitch.
There’s a slight doubt over Matt Ritchie, but Bruce expects the former Bournemouth man to be available after a calf problem. Recent super sub Joe Willock, who has three goals in his last three games, is unable to face his parent club, while Jamaal Lascelles, Ryan Fraser, Karl Darlow and Isaac Hayden are all out with injuries.
Arteta named an unusual side to face Villarreal on Thursday night, opting for a formation which used three recognised defenders, seven midfielders and no strikers. Granit Xhaka filled in at left-back in the absence of Kieran Tierney, and Nicolas Pepe played up front.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang played five minutes in the Europa League after recovering from malaria and Arteta confirmed he’s not fit enough to start, while Alex Lacazette is also missing. Pepe could continue up front, or Eddie Nketiah could come in for a rare start.
If Newcastle can get the win, they could move as high as 13th by the end of the weekend, while Arsenal will go back above Leeds into 9th if they can better their result against Brighton.
Newcastle United take on Arsenal at St James’ Park on Sunday, May 2nd. Kick-off is at 2pm.