Martin Dubravka is fit-again for Newcastle United as he waits patiently in the wings to make his return.
Calls for the goalkeeper to be recalled to Eddie Howe’s starting XI intensified at the weekend following the six-goal thriller with Brentford.
Why did Dubravka miss Newcastle’s start to the season?
Dubravka returned to Tyneside in the summer fresh from representing Slovakia at the World Cup, only to be rocked by a bad injury.
The 32-year-old underwent surgery in July on a stress fracture in his foot - ruling him out for just over 12 weeks.
In recent games against Chelsea, Brighton and Brentford, Dubravka was back in contention but watched on from the bench.
Which goalkeepers have stepped up in Dubravka’s place?
With usual replacement Karl Darlow suffering badly from Covid-19, Freddie Woodman was called back to the North East just as he was about to join Championship side Bournemouth on a season-long loan.
Woodman, on the back of two successful years on loan at Swansea City, started the club’s opening five games and faced an astonishing eight penalties - including the shootout defeat to Burnley in the Carabao Cup.
After a poor showing in the 4-1 defeat at Manchester United, which coincided with a hip injury, Darlow battled back and has remained in between the sticks for the previous eight matches.
Indeed, Dubravka’s return to the matchday squad has upped the attention on Darlow.
Are their calls for Dubravka to return?
Yes, and they’re loud.
Supporters questioned Darlow’s place ahead of Dubravka for the visit of Brentford after the latter played 90 minutes for his country during the international break.
Unfortunately, Darlow did little to justify his selection following his howler for Ivan Toney’s equaliser in the 3-3 draw. From that moment on, he looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Had Dubraka stayed on Tyneside during Howe’s first week and a bit, there is a case to say he might have featured against the Bees instead.
Howe stuck by the players who weren’t on international duty with Fabian Schar the only exception.
What does Dubravka bring to the team that others don’t?
Dubravka adds confidence to the teammates in front of him with his ability to come for crosses. He is also comfortable with the ball at his feet - a big trait to have in a typical Howe side.
When the Slovakian returned to the starting XI for the remaining 13 games of last season, United lost just three games as they surged towards top-flight survival, a stat that further reiterates his importance.
He is Newcastle’s number one for a reason. For a defence that has conceded a joint-league worst of 27 goals, an average of 2.3 per game, Dubravka’s selection could be a big step towards a desperately-needed improvement.
Will Dubravka return against Arsenal?
It’d be a surprise if he didn’t, but that doesn’t mean Howe will bow down to the majority.
Darlow’s confidence will be low after what happened against Brentford and immediately dropping him won’t do anything to help.
However, it’s a result business and Newcastle are desperate for points. Their first victory of the campaign to kickstart their survival bid is required as soon as possible.