Arsenal vs. Newcastle
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Kick off: 3PM
Arsenal play host to Newcastle United this afternoon with the two clubs locked on the same points in the Premier League table.
Despite sitting in 11th and 12th positions respectively, the Gunners and the Magpies have put together lengthy unbeaten runs in 2020.
Having lost just one of his opening nine matches as Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta is well on his way to winning around the club’s supporters at a time when the Gunners are striving to make headway up the standings.
However, the Spaniard will be aware that the optimism at the Emirates Stadium will soon disappear if his side do not start to convert draws into victories in the very near future.
As it stands, there is an acceptance that the former midfielder requires time to stamp his authority on a squad which have under-performed for a number of years, and confidence will be taken from how the North Londoners were able to twice come from behind with 10 men to earn a draw at Chelsea towards the end of last month.
Nevertheless, dropping points at Crystal Palace and Burnley, as well as squandering a lead against Sheffield United, means that Arteta cannot afford to sit too comfortably in the Emirates dugout just yet.
With three points being regarded as a necessity this afternoon, Arteta knows that he must find a way to improve his misfiring attack, one which has scored just 13 goals in 12 matches.
Having remained as an unused substitute in the goalless draw with Burnley, Nicolas Pepe will be hoping for a recall as he bids to improve on his three goals and three assists in the Premier League this season.
There is also an argument for Eddie Nketiah to be provided with an opportunity down the middle, with Alexandre Lacazette having failed to score in his last eight starts.
At the other end of the pitch, Shkodran Mustafi received widespread praise for helping Arsenal to a clean sheet at Turf Moor, although the German knows he must prove himself at the Emirates Stadium to win over a fanbase which have become accustomed to feeling nervous by his presence at the back.
Steve Bruce has had to work hard in order to gain the support of a similarly demanding group of supporters, a target he is on his way to achieving with an eight-match unbeaten streak in all competitions.
The Magpies manager has spoken of placing a prolonged run in the FA Cup as one of his main ambitions for the rest of the campaign, a declaration which would have been warmly greeted by the St James’ Park faithful.
That said, while Newcastle are only six points adrift of the Premier League’s top six, there cannot be any complacency with the North-East outfit still just seven points above the relegation zone.
Bruce will feel that three more wins should achieve their minimum target for the campaign, but he will want more with his squad having shown against the top teams in the division that they are capable of being a long-term fixture in the top 10.
With a favourable schedule to come, that is still a possibility for this season, although Bruce may need some luck with injuries for that objective to feel realistic.
Despite the injuries to Andy Carroll and Dwight Gayle, Bruce will hope that Joelinton is now ready to fill the void having shown confidence when netting against Oxford United in the FA Cup for just his third goal of the season.
The Brazilian’s poor form in front of goal has contributed to Newcastle possessing the joint-worst attack in the Premier League, and Bruce may be prepared to throw more caution to the wind in order to improve that statistic.
However, having found a successful formula against the better sides this season, a balance will have to be found in order to overcome opponents who will also view this contest as a chance to make headway up the table.
Arsenal possible XI: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Pepe, Ozil, Martinelli, Aubameyang.
Newcastle United possible XI: Dubravka, Lazaro, Fernandes, Lascelles, Clark, Rose, Almiron, Hayden, Bentaleb, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.