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Bruce waiting on Lascelles fitness ahead of Arsenal trip

Steve Bruce says he hopes to have captain Jamaal Lascelles available for Monday’s trip to Arsenal – while Allan Saint-Maximin is also closing in on a return to action.

Magpies skipper Lascelles played the first half of the FA Cup defeat to the Gunners earlier this month after a lengthy spell out with the effects of COVID, but missed Tuesday night’s 1-0 reverse at Sheffield United.

But head coach Bruce is hopeful the centre half will be back in action for their return to the Emirates Stadium (8pm kick-off), while influential winger Saint-Maximin – who has also suffered with COVID in recent months – could return to training over the weekend.

Providing an update on his side’s fitness news, Bruce said: “Jamal Lewis could come back into the frame. The captain, Jamaal Lascelles, could come back in – we’ll see how he is after a week’s training after the COVID.

“We’ve got a problem with (Federico) Fernández. This COVID thing has been hanging around us for the best part of a month. It’s badly affected arguably our best attacking player (Saint-Maximin), which has not helped us. He’s maybe training today or tomorrow, so that’s good news, but he’s been out for the best part of seven weeks with it.

“We’re still hoping that we’ve got a few back, but the one thing with this COVID thing is this fatigue – it’s the biggest thing we’re seeing with the after-effects of having COVID.”

On Saint-Maximin, he added: “He’s been out seven weeks, so we’ll have to monitor him, see how he is. As I’ve said, the biggest thing we’re finding, even in elite athletes, is this fatigue – this lethargy, struggle to train properly, struggle to really physically do anything, so it has been a problem.”

With the midweek loss at Bramall Lane – sealed by Billy Sharp’s second half penalty – still fresh in the memory, Bruce has demanded a “response” from his players as they bid to get their first win of 2021 under their belts at the home of the Gunners.

“You always want a response from a team. I expect some sort of response, that’s for sure,” he said.

“We have to accept the criticism, but we can’t accept that performance. We have to erase it to a certain level. Yes, in the Premier League, you’re going to get beat, but there’s a certain way of doing it and certainly the other night, the way we went about it wasn’t good enough.”

And the United boss says the mood of the players is one he shares, as he seeks a way of halting his team’s recent slump in form ahead of the clash with Mikel Arteta’s men.

“The mood I hope mirrors mine – they’re upset, and disappointed at what we produced the other night in the first half,” he said.

“There’s no denying it, there’s no getting away from it, we were absolutely hopeless. I have to take the responsibility for it – I picked the team, set the team up, and accept the responsibility of what’s coming our way.

“It’s disappointing because we throw that in too often. We threw it in at Brentford (in the Carabao Cup), where we didn’t do enough to win the match. I’ll look at it and analyse it again, which I’ve done over and over since Tuesday, and get us to change.”

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