26 min: “The real question today is why the club that became famous in the 90s for adapting healthy diets now has such a large-waisted mascot?” Justin Kavanagh. “Never mind Brexit, fourth-place races, and other such trivialities, this is a question that needs answering Jacob.”
25 min: Iwobi crosses from the left. Lacazette, who’d given the seething Ritchie a little shove moments before the ball came in, flicks a header harmlessly wide. Dubravka hasn’t made a save yet. Good old Rafa.
21 min: Maitland-Niles wins a corner for Arsenal on the right. Iwobi and Ozil take it short. Ozil’s poor cross is cleared by Perez.
20 min: “Please don’t stress us out like that, could mean anything,” Zach Neeley says. “No more news please.”
17 min: Kolasinac’s deflected low cross fizzes straight through to Dubravka.
14 min: It felt pretty needless from Sokratis. It’s doubtful that Lejeune would have been able to leap high enough to stop the ball reaching Ramsey, whose run went untracked by Newcastle’s defence. It’s a big let-off for the visitors, albeit probably the right call from the referee to chalk off the goal.
13 min: Ozil sends the corner to the near post, it’s flicked on to the far by Kolasinac and Aaron Ramsey arrives unmarked to volley past Dubravka! Goal! Ramsey wheels away in celebration – but his joy is shortlived! Anthony Taylor’s blown his whistle and awarded a Newcastle free-kick after seeing Sokratis tug Lejeune’s shirt in the middle! Who needs VAR, eh?
12 min: A long ball over the top picks out Lacazette, who’s onside. He ends up winning Arsenal’s first corner. Ozil will take it from the left.
9 min: Diame nips in to rob Guendouzi, who responds by pulling the Newcastle midfielder down. Guendouzi, an amusingly snide player at times, especially for one so young, is lucky not to pick up a booking,
7 min: It’s been a fairly low-key start, with neither side stringing much together. Newcastle are not going to be expansive.
4 min: Maitland-Niles has a saunter down the right. And falls over. Not part of the plan. Moments later Mustafi launches in two-footed to win the ball off Almiron. He’s lucky not to catch the Paraguayan, else that could easily have been an early bath.
3 min: Arsenal are helping themselves to plenty of early possession, with Newcastle content to sit off. The visitors have lined up with a back five and could be tough to break down.
Peep! Newcastle, in black and white stripes, get the ball rolling. They’re kicking from right to left in the first half and their fans are making plenty of noise. In the home end, meanwhile, there are a fair few red seats.
Here come the teams! Football’s on the way. Let’s hope both goalkeepers have been studying Hugo Lloris training videos.
Rafael Benitez speaks! “They are doing well but we come here with confidence. We will try to do something. You have to be focused and concentrated because they have players who can make the difference.”
Unai Emery speaks! “Our focus is on finding our best performance. Our challenge is to continue winning here. We need a lot of respect for every team. Each match is very difficult and they are in a good moment. They are very organised and Rafa Benitez has big experience. We want to improve. We want to show good spirit to get third place.”
Newcastle will have ways of hurting Arsenal here. They have one of the best defences outside the top six, as you’d expect of a Rafa Benitez side, and Miguel Almiron has given their attack a bit more zest since his January arrival. With one defeat in their last six, they travel to north London in a confident mood. On the other hand they haven’t won away since 15 December. In fact they have two away wins this season: Burnley and Huddersfield, and have lost their last six games at the Emirates.
Arsenal: Leno; Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Ozil; Lacazette. Subs: Cech, Jenkinson, Elneny, Suarez, Nketiah, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang.
Newcastle: Dubravka; Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett; Yedlin, Hayden, Diame, Ritchie; Perez, Rondon, Almiron. Subs: Darlow, Fernandez, Kenedy, Ki, Manquillo, Shelvey, Muto.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Hello. Compared to how they were feeling a year ago, things are actually going pretty well for Arsenal. The supporters are no longer on the brink of civil war, there isn’t a furious debate about the manager every single minute of every single day and it is even possible to detect signs of a team heading in the right direction. Unai Emery’s first season since replacing that professorial French chap hasn’t been without its disappointments, such as an early exit from the FA Cup and a few dodgy away performances in the league, but the Spaniard’s team are in the last eight of the Europa League and, as it stands, a first top-four finish since 2016 is theirs to lose. Not too shabby, all considering.
A win here will lift Arsenal up to third, two points above Tottenham and Manchester United and three above Chelsea with SEVEN games to play, and the good news is that they haven’t made a habit of losing at home to teams like Newcastle under Emery. Only Liverpool, Manchester City and Wolves have taken points from the Emirates this season. Otherwise Arsenal have been dominant at home, sweeping stragglers and strugglers aside and even giving their rivals for in the race to qualify for the Champions League a good shoeing, and that makes it difficult to see them experiencing much trouble against Newcastle. Rafael Benitez’s side, seven points clear of the bottom three and drifting in 14th place, will have their work cut out containing Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
In Unai we trust, then. Sort of. Before everyone gets too excited, let’s not forget that five of Arsenal’s seven league games are away from home. They’ve only won once on the road in 2019, and that was against Huddersfield, so it doesn’t really count. Their travel sickness could yet be their undoing, while a European quarter-final with Napoli will also push them to the limit. For now, however, the mood is optimistic. A seventh consecutive home win is there for the taking. A place in the top four is theirs to snatch. It’s in their hands! In fact, you could even say that it’s … up for grabs now!
Kick-off: 8pm BST.