DESPITE the ten point gap Newcastle United hold over the relegation zone, Rafael Benitez is still not willing to consider that Premier League safety has been assured even if his team sit in an impressive tenth this season.

A victory over Arsenal at St James’ Park on Sunday would take the Magpies over the 40 point mark which Benitez has targeted since the start of the campaign, with another five matches still remaining.

That would then give the Newcastle boss the sort of cushion over the relegation zone to enjoy the run-in, even if the smile he offers up during his answer suggested his team are going well and making progress.

Newcastle will head into the visit of the Gunners without any fresh injury problems, while they know that a further win this weekend could see them climb level with ninth-placed Everton.

The situation is in stark contrast to eight matches ago when the threat of falling into the Championship again was real; the run of one defeat since has pretty much ended that even though Benitez is not willing to think like that until the 38 points his team holds his the big 4-0.

“I have to be honest tenth would have exceeded expectation at the start of the season, with a lot of teams in the Premier League spending money they did, we knew it would not be easy,” said Benitez.

“The main thing was to stay up this season. Little by little we thought maybe we could do it, but then we had a bad run and it became harder. Then we had better mentality and started to do well after January and got more confidence. Now we can dream, we have to be sure we stay there and if we can go higher.

“I don’t want the fans to relax, I want them to keep pushing and cheering the team. Hopefully they will keep enjoying it. The relationship between fans and players has been key this year.

“Normally the team has been going away and the fans can make a difference, but if you have 52,000 at home enjoying the games and behind the team then the team can play better.”

Arsenal would normally be battling for a Championship League spot but are sitting 13 points behind fourth spot ahead of their visit. In that respect, and with Arsene Wenger’s side in the semi-finals of the Europa League, the task should be made easier for Newcastle.

Benitez said: “40 points is the mark and we have to try to reach that. After that … we are closer than before to avoiding relegation but we still need two points to be key and to hit the mark we are trying to get.

“I will ask the players before the game, if there is any with any doubt about where we are then I will put another player in.

“They all know we are in a better position, hopefully we can get 40 points this weekend and then think about more. The key is to get 40 points and then to think about the future.

“It’s crucial to have the winning mentality. You know the level of your team and if you can do that then you have to be more ambitious.”

Newcastle are expected to field an unchanged team even though striker Islam Slimani is available again after missing the win at Leicester under the terms of his loan.

Arsenal, despite having had a trip to Moscow in the Europa League and after Friday’s draw pitted them against Atletico Madrid to reflect on, will be ready, according to Benitez.

The Newcastle boss said: “Normally, as a manager, travelling you can say they will be tired, as the opposition you say no. As a manager I have been in the Europa League, the Champions League, you have to travel, but you have a bigger squad. They are fine.

“Arsenal are used to that and I don’t see it as a big issue. When you are used to playing two games a week at this level, a manager with experience, I don’t think it will be a big advantage for us.

“We will have another big crowd. Some fans will say we are stronger than Arsenal but the reality is Arsenal are one of the top sides in England. They are a massive team, have very good players, with a great manager and great experience.

“That’s why they have been in Europe for many years. They might not be in the Champions League but they are in the semi-final of the Europa league.

“I have a lot of confidence in my team, my players and the atmosphere we can create in this stadium. I am confident we can beat them but I also know we are playing one of the top teams.

“You cannot think that a high tempo at the beginning will make them suffer. We have to approach the game in the same we approached games against Manchester United, Southampton …”