Jose Manuel Jurado and Craig Cathcart appear to have put themselves in contention for the FA Cup quarter-final at Arsenal tomorrow by being deemed fit enough to travel on the team bus for the overnight hotel stay. Joel Ekstrand is also part of the first-team squad for the first time in nearly a year.
Jurado and Cathcart both had fitness tests on a calf injury at London Colney this morning as the squad, according to Troy Deeney, did some “fine tuning” in their final session before the last-eight tie at the Emirates stadium.
Both the Spanish playmaker and the Northern Ireland centre-half have seemingly done enough to convince the medical staff and Quique Sanchez Flores that they are fit enough to feature in the game against Arsenal. They, along with Ekstrand, were pictured in a photo taken on the team bus and posted on the Instagram account of Mario Suarez.
Jurado has not played since the last trip to north London, the limp 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane, but Sanchez Flores knows him better than any player in the squad and threw him straight back in against Manchester United after his previous five-game absence. His ability to keep the ball could be vital if he is deemed fit enough to start while his game-breaking qualities could be called on from the bench if Watford are chasing the tie.
Cathcart, who was only considered fit enough for the bench at Old Trafford and ruled out completely against Leicester City, is certain to start if he’s anything close to being 100 per cent. Sanchez Flores will want to play Nathan Ake at left-back, and not as an emergency centre-half, with Sebastian Prodl and Cathcart at the heart of the defence and Allan Nyom at full-back. Miguel Britos has been ruled out.
Ekstrand, who has been training for a fortnight after injuring his right hamstring against Boreham Wood, is in the squad selected to travel for the first time since that fateful day against Ipswich Town when he sustained a dreadful knee injury. He may well end up being the 20th man – third-choice keeper Nathan Gartside is invariably the 19th player – and could have been included just in case Cathcart pulls up lame on the morning of the game and a centre-half is needed to sit on the bench.
Ekstrand played at the Emirates in 2011, playing the full 90 minutes at centre-half as Udinese lost 1-0 to a goal from Theo Walcott in a Champions League playoff tie.