Following a setback against Liverpool, Arsenal returned to script as they saw off Newcastle 2-0. While we typically do a Q&A with the opposition ahead of each match, the holiday schedule this past week altered plans. Instead, and since Newcastle have so much to discuss at the moment, we’re bringing you a post-match Q&A with Elijah Newsome and Coming Home Newcastle.
TSF: Let’s start with the primary topic on our readers’ minds — Joe Willock. Are you taking care of him, and more seriously, after his great loan stint, how has he fared this year at Newcastle?
CHN: Joe Willock was probably one of the most important reasons Newcastle actually stayed up last season. His energy in the midfield was something Newcastle desperately needed, and tactically his late runs in the box were something that was a wonderful addition to a team struggling to score. In half a season Joe Willock had 8 goals in 14 appearances and looked like a must-have for Newcastle for the 2021-22 campaign. Once Newcastle signed him fans felt that he would be the perfect young player to slot right into the starting lineup in the midfield. A versatile player who is technically gifted with an engine is literally like nothing we’ve had since the days of Gini Wijnaldum before the relegation season.
Unfortunately, this season has been a really slow one for Joe. Under Steve Bruce and Graeme Jones there was no clear plan for him and ultimately it’s ended with him having minimal production this season. Eddie Howe seems like a good Manager to get the best out of him. He has a lot of the attributes Howe looks for in a player and I suspect we will see Willock return to form soon.
TSF: Of course the main story has been Newcastle’s new owners. First of all let’s get your personal take on the switch from Mike Ashley to the new to now Public Investment Fund (PIF), both on and off the pitch?
CHN: My personal stance has always been that there was no scenario in which the owner of Newcastle was going to be a saint. By in large to be a billionaire you have to do some less than kind things to accrue that amount of wealth. Mike Ashley was an awful man with multiple complaints about how he treated his workers, worsened his products, etc. The Saudis are obviously far worse, and I’m sure if we did digging on Staveley and the Reuben brothers you would find some dirt. In fact, the way Staveley has arguably manipulated the media and fans as a negotiating tactic throughout her multiple attempts to buy the club is telling of how goes about business. That use of the media backfired in Newcastle’s pursuit of Unai Emery. Newcastle fans are in a difficult position regarding the Saudi Owners because of the obvious human rights violations. It’s tough to go from complete neglect to having owners willing to invest in the team and the region as a whole and not be excited.
The tension is only relieved when you realize there is literally nothing we can do as fans. If anyone knows this, it’s Newcastle. They’ve tried to force Ashley out for years to no avail. Trying to prove to the rest of the world that Ashley was an incompetent owner was only met with responses of “stop complaining” or “ you have it good enough, you’re still in the Premier League”. Nonetheless, it’s a constant internal battle as a Newcastle fan when you one day see that the players are getting a recovery room for match day, and the next day see that Saudi Arabia has once again done something awful but know there’s literally nothing you can do to affect either outcome
TSF: Away from your personal feelings about the matter, how has it been running the Newcastle side and related social media accounts since the takeover?
CHN: Honestly running the social media accounts has been fine. The whole of the Newcastle fanbase is in the same boat. There’s a lot of optimism for the squad. The toughest thing has really been making sure there are realistic expectations among the fanbase. One example is that a lot of fans expected Newcastle to fire Bruce and have a new coach installed within the first week of owning the team. It’s simply unrealistic, and some people needed that reminder. There’s also a lot of fans who feel as if “everyone is out to get Newcastle now that they have new owners” or “people are jealous” because journalists and fans will point out the numerous human rights violations from Saudi Arabia. These fans have to constantly be reminded that the criticism is valid and is not only targeted at Newcastle. F1, WWE, Man City, and PSG often get similar stories written about them.
TSF: Eddie Howe is the new man in charge as Newcastle starts this era. How important was it for the club to get a fresh start and do you believe Howe will be given the time (and transfer windows) to transform this squad?
CHN: I think Howe is given time to transform the team because I think he’s one of the only managers that would probably drop into the championship with this squad. The ownership group was impressed with his plan for the squad over the next few seasons. I would imagine he’s allowed to stay at least through his three-year contract unless Newcastle is in another relegation battle next year.
TSF: 13 matches into the season, zero wins, and sitting at the bottom of the Premier League table. Is the goal at this point simply survival this season, knowing that it’s often harder to add reinforcements during the winter window?
CHN: The goal for Newcastle every season is survival. Getting to 38 points is the goal, and there’s still an opportunity to do that, even if the chances are slim. Anything more than that is a treat to build on going into next season.
TSF: When do you believe the first league win will come this season?
CHN: I would argue that if Martin Dubravka was in goal last week instead of Karl Darlow Newcastle would have won. Dubravka is a keeper that has kept Newcastle in so many games they should have lost, and now that they have the offense to match. You would hope they can squeak out a nervy win.
TSF: What do you expect from the winter transfer window? The funds will be there, but players may be hesitant to join while Newcastle’s position in the league is at risk and opt to wait for the summer if the club avoids relegation.
CHN: I think Newcastle will not make any sexy signings in the winter window. Definitely think they will go after a Center Back like James Tarkowski, another midfielder, and hopefully a backup striker. You won’t see them going after any crazy young, coveted prospect or even some of the disgruntled stars they’ve been linked to. The goal is to improve the squad by any means necessary, so you have to take what you can get in areas of need. Maybe in the summer you could see them go after a disgruntled Van De Beek or Rabiot. But not anytime soon.
TSF: Allan Saint-Maximin is Newcastle’s most dynamic player and would probably have been a transfer target away from the club before the sale. Now that PIF is in control, do you expect him to stay this summer if the club stays up, and which other current players do you expect to survive the overhaul (let’s say looking ahead two years from this point)?
CHN: Unfortunately this isn’t FIFA career mode and you can’t overhaul the entire squad. There are few players I could see Newcastle sticking with over the next few seasons. Most of the squad is simply past their prime. ASM is certainly a player that will definitely stick around, and be key for the team going forward. Joe Willock being only 21 with a lot of potential is another player that will be around for a while. Joelinton is intriguing as he enters his prime and looks like he will grow a lot under Howe.
Some players I think only have two or so years left with the team due to age. They are good enough to stick around but you will eventually have to sell them and bring in younger, better players. Players like Miguel Almiron, Jamal Lascelles, Callum Wilson, Martin Dubravka, Jonjo Shlevey, Fabian Scär, Ryan Fraser, and Javi Manquillo fit this bill. Players like Ciran Clark, Fede Fernandez, Dwight Gayle, Jeff Hendrick, and Jacob Murphy are likely getting sold to Championship clubs this summer and likely a few could get sold in the winter.
Karl Darlow also fits that mold as you would hope the much younger Freddie Woodman could challenge for the number two role next season. Sean Longstaff and Matty Longstaff are intriguing young names that feel as if they need a coach like Howe to help them reach their full potential. It’s quite possible each one of them won’t ever be good enough to stick around, but I think Eddie will give both of them a shot over the next couple of years.
TSF: How did Newcastle perform on Saturday compared with your expectations?
CHN: Honestly, I was a bit surprised with how solid Newcastle were defensively in the first half. The offensive effort was subpar, but it was understandable considering it looked like the focus was to defend in numbers. Losing the match wasn’t surprising in fact it exposed some clear flaws on the backline and I hope other players are afforded the opportunity to prove their worth. Matt Ritchie and Lascelles getting suspended for Newcastle’s next match honestly might be a good thing, as they were two of the biggest liabilities against Arsenal.
Jamal Lewis and Federico Fernandez are two names that haven’t been given an opportunity under Howe yet and I’m curious as to why. Fernandez is Newcastle’s best 1v1 defender and Lewis was a really promising fullback when he left Norwich. Outside of a leaky defense, I think the Newcastle midfield struggled. Joe Willock wasn’t super impactful until the last 15 minutes of the match. Shelvey actually put in another decent performance and looks like a transformed player under Howe.
The attack was lackluster after a really good display against Brentford. I think the combination of neutralizing Callum Wilson and Tomiyasu/Taveres pushing up so much were big reasons for that. Callum being neutralized meant that there was no outlet for Joelinton to play the ball to after winning it in the air or dropping into the midfield to collect the ball. ASM and Fraser having to defend against Arsenal’s fullbacks also meant that there was usually a lack of options going forward for a team trying to play on the counter. Overall the performance from Newcastle was ok. In the first half, they frustrated Arsenal which was nice to see, but it still is concerning how awful the defense is. They’ll need to get a handle on things if they have any remote chance of staying up
TSF: What do you make of Eddie Howe’s first match in charge?
CHN: Overall it was nice seeing Howe in charge. I think probably his biggest mistake is continuing to try to play Ritchie as a fullback. Matt Richie only began playing as a wingback under Rafa Benitez simply because Mike Ashley refused to sign a left-back for so long. He’s not a natural left-back, he’s not a natural left wing-back, he’s not a natural defender at all. So he should not really be a first-choice fullback in any setup. He really is not a great defender, and he actually doesn’t really have the athleticism anymore to keep up with some of the more pacey wingers and fullbacks that we’re seeing in the Premier League. Yes, he works hard, but he really just is a liability on defense and should not be defending. I think Matt Richie’s rolling the team right now is as an impact sub when Newcastle is looking to potentially chase the game and want to swing in a lot of crosses.
I’m curious to see what Howe does in The next couple of matches. I think he’s now getting to a point where a lot of guys who miss the initial set of trainings due to the international break can start fighting for spots like we saw with Fabian Schär. As well as rotating out some of the guys who he keeps giving chances to such as Ritchie. I’m also curious to see how Newcastle handles two must-win games this week as they head into January.
Thanks to Elijah Newsome and Coming Home Newcastle for taking the time to talk with us.