With our one chance of glory teetering on a knife-edge and due to be resolved on Thursday evening, our trip to Newcastle today feels like an annoyance and an encumbrance.
We have no chance of achieving European qualification via the Premier League so this game is important only in its potential for us to build some momentum and confidence and as an injury risk to key players.
With that in mind I hope Mikel Arteta rests as many of the important players as is reasonably possible, including those returning from recent injuries.
As for Newcastle, they have been involved in a relegation scrap all season and are currently sitting fourth from bottom. However, they are nine points clear of Fulham who are one place below them and their PL survival seems all but guaranteed under the likeable Steve Bruce.
Even so they won’t want to take any chances and they are on a run of good form, unbeaten since March 20th when they went down 0-3 at Brighton. Since then they have drawn with Spuds and Liverpool and beaten Burnley and West Ham.
All in all it could make for a challenging day for the boys in red and white (or whatever colour we wear today). Newcastle have a bigger incentive to win and we’ll have half an eye on Thursday night.
If I were El Patron I would use the game to give some of the fringe players a chance, with a team like this:
Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Cedric
Xhaka – Azeez
Nelson – Willian – Martineli
In particular I would keep Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Luiz, Aubameyang and Tierney wrapped in cotton wool.
However, I suspect that Arteta will go for a more familiar line-up with only one or two fringe players used and maybe that’s not a terrible idea: a sense of continuity can be beneficial.
I can’t see that the strange formation used in the first leg against Villareal will be tried again but you never know.
Chambers – Holding – Gabriel – Xhaka
Partey – Ceballos
Saka – Odegaard – Willian
Whatever the team, let’s hope we get a confidence-boosting victory and no injuries.
Come on You Gunners