Newcastle could profit with Arsenal minds focused on Europe
The Gunners have been to Moscow and back
Sky Sports Premier League, 1.30pm Sunday
Barring an unlikely collapse from Liverpool or Spurs, Arsenal’s top-four ambitions look dead and buried.
Like Manchester United in 2016 their hope of Champions League qualification rests on them winning the Europa League, although that avenue has been made significantly tougher by drawing tournament favourites Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals.
And while the first leg against the Spaniards is not until April 26, it still leaves Gunners boss in something of a quandary for their games in the interim period against Newcastle and West Ham.
Does Arsene Wenger name his best available side for those matches or take arch adversary Jose Mourinho’s approach and put all his eggs in the Europa League basket?
Wenger's team selections over the last six weeks suggest that the latter will be his preferred option for both games but almost certainly for the trip to St James’ Park.
The Gunners have been to Moscow and back this week and there also doubts over the fitness of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, who picked up knocks in the nervy 2-2 draw against CSKA. They at least look unlikely to start.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is available after being cup-tied for Thursday’s tie as the Gunners go in search of a first away win of 2018 but that barren run could continue.
Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez is steadfast in his belief that tenth-placed Newcastle are not safe until they reach the magical 40-point barrier but it looks safe to assume that the Magpies will be playing Premier League football next season.
That looked questionable after a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on December 16, but Benitez has fortified the Toon in the subsequent months with only Manchester City (twice) and Liverpool getting the better of his side in their last 14 league outings.
They have been especially resolute at home since losing five on the spin on Tyneside in November and December and they enter their clash with the Gunners unbeaten in six on home soil and winners of their last three there without conceding.
The first of those wins came against Manchester United which shows they can mix it with the bigger sides and at odds-against in the draw-no-bet market, Newcastle make plenty of appeal.
Newcastle draw no bet
1pt 13-10 BoyleSports
Loanee Islam Slimani is available after missing last week’s win over parent club Leicester.
Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere will be assessed prior to kick-off after picking up knocks in midweek. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is set to return to the side having been cup-tied on Thursday.
Arsenal have gained only 13 of their 54 points in away games.
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