WHEN Steve Bruce last visited the Emirates in October, his biggest headache was plotting an exit route that would allow him to get to Euston in time to catch the train north and join in good friend Sam Allardyce’s birthday celebrations in Manchester.
Now, though, the Tigers’ chief has a host of injury problems and fatigue to contend with after a punishing festive schedule that saw his side play four times in just 12 days.
Bruce said: “I am going to have to see what we have got before thinking about the team, count the numbers and see what personnel we have. There were a lot of tired bodies in our dressing room after the Everton win (on New Year’s Day).
“To ask them to put in another performance after some terrific effort over six days, that could be a lot. The physical workrate against Everton was the difference.
“We had an energy about us. Everton struggled with how we got after them and pressed them.
“I thought it was a really good performance but, of course, I have to make sure we are also going to be ready for West Brom (a week today).
“That is a big game and they will have a new manager (in Tony Pulis), too. It will be a big, big game. But then again, they all are. We have to accumulate a few points. We have got six in the last week, which is terrific, but we need more.”
Liam Rosenior, Andrew Robertson and Gaston Ramirez were the latest trio to suffer injuries in that Everton win, joining Mohamed Diame, Michael Dawson and Robert Snodgrass on the list of absentees.
Brighter news, however, is that Tom Huddlestone is back after a four-game ban, while Stephen Quinn is also available after serving a one-game suspension.
Bruce added: “I remember last year we went to Middlesbrough and made nine changes. Everyone had a few things to say, but that was the best we played all year.
“We were terrific up there. I have to look at it, as some of them have played three games in six days. I have to look at what we have got and approach it like we did last year.
“It couldn’t be a more difficult tie. Going to the Emirates is never easy. Let’s hope we can go and put a show on.
“I have seen good signs over the past few weeks, in terms of getting back to how we were playing earlier in the season.
“That said, this will be the biggest test of all, up against Arsenal.”