Morning all. Hope you’re all well, let’s do a quick Saturday round-up for you.

Mikel Arteta has spoken about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who returned to action following his recent hospitalisation from Malaria. The captain played a few minutes at the end of the Villarreal game, looked pretty sharp, and even came close to scoring, but it seems he’s still struggling to get back to full fitness.

Arteta said:

“He hasn’t trained much. He is still not at the level in his physique that he should be to start. We will see again tomorrow how he is.

“Yesterday he could only play a few minutes but we managed to get him on the pitch, which is great news for us.”

I suppose this weekend the decision is how to get a bit more playing time into him. Do you start him and take him off, looking for him to do an hour? Or, is he someone you bring on for the last 30 minutes, where perhaps his lack of sharpness is offset a bit by facing tired defenders?

Speaking about his own experience of malaria, former Gunner Kolo Toure said:

“Even for a guy like me malaria is tough, it can take all my power. As a footballer, if you have it, you can lose all your fitness in two days.”

So, it’s a difficult thing to recover from. Every decision the manager makes this weekend has to have next Thursday in mind to some degree or another, and this a key one. There’s no question Aubameyang has had a poor season by his standards, but if that’s true for an individual, it’s equally true for the team. If we are to turn it around in the second leg, our chances will be much better if he can play a substantial part. Maybe not the whole game, but we’re more likely to get the goals we need with him than without him.

To be fair, we’re more likely to get goals if we use any striker rather than none, so hopefully that’s a lesson Arteta takes from the last game.

Meanwhile, Newcastle won’t be permitted to field on-loan Joe Willock tomorrow, and while he’s not starting every week there, he is making a contribution. He scored on his debut, and has scored in his last three appearances too. The time of those goals is worth noting too.

He salvaged a point with an 85th strike against Sp*rs (haha); scored an 82nd minute winner against West Ham; and in the 95th minute of their game against Liverpool he popped up to level the scores and make Jurgen Klopp’s face do this:

I wrote last week about how I like Joe, and I do think a team that does not score goals from midfield needs to think very carefully about a player who can do exactly that. Remember, he’s still only 21, and not all development is linear.

Arteta says of his loan:

“It was a difficult decision to let him go because we really like the player. He needed more game-time and needed this type of experience. He has stepped in at big moments for them and scored some crucial goals so that is really good news because it is great for his development.”

In a summer when Dani Ceballos will go back to Spain permanently, and we’re more than likely to let go of Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and, potentially, Mohamed Elneny, we need to be active in the market to fill those gaps. However, money will be tight for the reasons we all understand, so some squad depth will have to come from within. Willock is certainly a candidate for that, particularly after a loan spell which has been more successful than most.

Another element to his future is what kind of market there might be for him, and maybe Ainsley Maitland-Niles. If the right bid came in, then of course there’s a good argument to be made that we ought to cash in and invest, but I just have a feeling that Willock’s Arsenal race isn’t quite run yet.

I’m also interested to see where Dani Ceballos will end up next season. He made it pretty clear this week he sees his future in Spain rather than England, but with all due respect to him, he hasn’t convinced anyone he can be a regular starter for an average team lying 10th in the Premier League, so it’s hard to see him make the grade at Real Madrid (unless their financial situation makes it a necessity).

Real San Miguel, get yer cheque book out.

Right, that’s enough. We’ll have a Newcastle preview podcast on Patreon later today, and for now I’ll leave you with the Arsecast Extra from yesterday in which James and I discuss Villarreal and lots more. Have a good Saturday.

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