Arsene Wenger knows Arsenal cannot afford another slip-up when they face Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium aiming to end a damaging run of three Premier League games without a win.
Wenger’s team played a scoreless draw at West Ham United on Wednesday and is in seventh place going into Saturday’s meeting with Rafael Benitez’s team.
Only one point separates the Gunners from Tottenham Hotspur in fourth, but in what is shaping up to be a tight battle for the Champions League places, Arsenal can ill-afford to drop more points against a struggling team.
The West Ham draw was preceded by a stalemate at Southampton – both games Wenger would have expected to win – reinforcing the view that Arsenal have not yet recovered from the blow of losing to Manchester United at home.
Wenger shuffled his pack for the short trip to West Ham, with both Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud making their first Premier League starts of the season.
Wilshere declared himself satisfied with his performance but admitted that he has yet to open talks with the club about an extension to his contract, which runs out at the end of the season.
“There’s not really a date in the diary for talks,” the England midfielder told London’s Evening Standard newspaper.
“At the moment, I’ve just played my first game in the Premier League. I’m concentrating on staying fit and staying in (the) team. That will look after itself and when it’s the right time, I’m sure the boss will pull me (in) so we can have a chat.”
“The games come thick and fast and that’s a good thing because we dropped points tonight (Wednesday) but have the chance to get three points on Saturday,” he added. “We need to recover now and be ready for that.”
Newcastle travel to the North London with problems mounting for manager Rafa Benitez.
Even though a £300 million ($403 million) takeover of the club by Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners is set to go through early in the New Year, a battle for Premier League survival threatens to overshadow the arrival of new owners to succeed the unpopular figure of Mike Ashley, the Sport Direct billionaire who is set to relinquish control after a decade in charge at St James’s Park.
The Tynesiders are just a point above the relegation zone after losing seven of their past eight games are in danger of an immediate return to the Championship.
England midfielder Jonjo Shelvey starts a two-match suspension after being sent off in the 1-0 home defeat to Everton, while goalkeeper Karl Darlow is set to drop to the bench after making costly errors in the past two matches.
“I don’t think you can say we’re in a relegation battle at this stage,” said captain Jamaal Lascelles. “Lots of people would probably have been happy with the points tally we are on if they were asked at the start of the season, so I’m not going to say we’re in a relegation battle.
“There have been a few home truths said in the dressing room, because we don’t want to leave it too late for things like that to be said. The reality is we’re not in a great position and sometimes things need to be said that players don’t want to hear. Hopefully, we’ll get a reaction against Arsenal.”