Defeat for Tottenham Hotspur against Liverpool yesterday afternoon means the Gunners can leapfrog their rivals into third place with victory over Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
Only a point separates third and sixth right now as the battle for a Champions League spot has become congested following Manchester United’s resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coupled with Spurs’ poor form.
Speaking ahead of the game, the Gunners’ head coach has admitted he’s wary of Rafa Benitez’s side who have put up a good fight against both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Spurs away from home this season.
However, Arsenal’s form at the Emirates has been good and this is a must-win game in their attempts to seal a top four finish.
Those definitely ruled out of tonight’s game are the injured trio of Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin, while Lucas Torreira is serving a domestic ban following his red card in the north London derby a month ago.
Emery has been successful with playing three at the back in recent games, so expect the same system against the Magpies.
Bernd Leno has quietly gone about his business in impressive fashion since displacing Petr Cech in between the sticks and should keep his place in the XI as he goes in search of a second successive clean sheet in the Premier League.
Sokratis and Nacho Monreal were injury doubts during the international break but both were in full training over the weekend so are set to line up either side of captain Laurent Koscielny in a back three with Shkodran Mustafi dropping to the bench.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac have proven to be effective wing-backs on either flanks, but there’s a decision to be made in the middle of the park as both Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka picked up injuries during the international period.
The Welshman was in full training, but the latter wasn’t in any of the pictures. Although Emery was confident that Xhaka would be fit, so expect him to start as his ability to dictate and control the tempo of the play will be key for Arsenal against what is expected to be a stubborn Newcastle side.
In attack, Emery must decide whether to pair Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack or drop one to go with a lone striker and two attacking midfielders in support.
Expect a front two with Mesut Ozil operating in his favoured number 10 role and that allows Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Alex Iwobi to change the game from the bench if needed.
This also means Denis Suarez has to wait for a first competitive start in Arsenal colours after joining on loan for the remainder of the season from Barcelona in the January transfer window.