Well, that could have gone better. It clearly wasn’t set to be Arsenal’s day, for many reasons within and beyond their control. Best to use it as motivation and use it to close out the season. Mikel Arteta’s side still controls their own destiny. The Gunners head to St. James Park for Newcastle’s home finale, but with their safety secured how much will they bring against Arsenal on Monday?
It has been a remarkable season for Newcastle United on and off the pitch. Controversial new ownership to climbing from the bottom of the league and now facing the chance to finish in the top half. Newcastle most recently suffered losses to Manchester City and Liverpool by a combined scoreline of 6-0, but prior to that had won four league matches in a row outscoring their opponents 7-to-1. In what will be Newcastle's last home match of the season, expect a much more difficult test for Arsenal than the last time these two sides faced off back in November (2-0 to the Gunners).
TSF: When we spoke back at the end of November, Newcastle had zero wins and was bottom of the table. At the time you said the goal was survival and 38 points. Newcastle is now on 43 points and is safe. What have been the key factors in this turnaround?
CHN: Eddie has really come in and provided structure for a team that had no structure under Bruce. There is a clear tactical identity, players are aware of their role on the pitch, and most of all the team is actually in shape. It turns out that when you don’t take every other day off of trainging the team is actually in shape. Additionally, individual players like Joelinton, Ryan Fraser, Joe WIllock, and Jonjo Shelvey have improved tremendously under Howe. Furthermore, players like Fabian Schär, Emil Krafth, and Miguel Almirón have made minor improvements as well. As a result of this the team looks really good especially now that players are comfortable and steadily improving. Lastly, the insane amount of money Newcastle spent in January helped. Trippier came in immediately and was one of the best players on the pitch for Newcastle. Unfortunately, he picked up an injury and just made his return to the team last week. However, Dan Burn and Matt Targett have made the defense so much better with both being undroppable. Now that Bruno is actually playing, he has proven to been the best midfielder we have seen on Tyneside in a while. He truly oozes class. Chris Wood... well he’s played. So that’s good.
Overall, it has been a mixture of things that have led to success. The cash spend in January makes it look like that is the sole reason for success, but I challenge people to look at Newcastle’s unbeaten run through March that was key for the team’s survival. Dan Burn and Matt Targett were the only two January signings consistently contributing at that point. Bruno was not playing, Trippier got injured, and Chris Wood was not scoring. Additionally, Newcastle dealt with injuries to Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, Allan Saint- Maximin, and Joelinton during that time. They still looked good, played well, and picked up results.
TSF: Looking at the table now, Newcastle has the potential to get as high as 10th to finish the season. The fans, and owners, must be delighted to see that much of a swing. What’s the general mode from the fan base as the season wraps up?
CHN: I think everyone is incredibly happy to be safe and there is a lot of excitement for the next couple of seasons. There is not really a push from the fan base to make the top 10 or to finish in a certain position. Everyone is just happy that the distance between Newcastle and Sunderland is still two leagues (for now).
TSF: Eddie Howe has surely secured his job for next season, right? There have been criticisms of him in regards to failing to answer questions about the owners, which I’d imagine only improves his standing in their view?
CHN: Eddie has secured his job for next season and I don’t think it has anything to do with how he has answered questions. I believe Eddie would be here even if Newcastle had gotten relegated. He was chosen to be manager partly due to the fact he had a plan for what would happen if Newcastle were to go down including the players he would want to bring in, tactics, and an overall plan to return to the Premier League for the ‘23-24 campaign. I don’t think his job was ever in doubt.
To answer your second part of your question: I have not heard anything about people criticizing him for not answering questions about Jamie Reuben and Amanda Staveley. Haha, in all seriousness though, I think people have to understand how little he interacts with the Saudis. If people have questions about their actions, ask Amanda Staveley who literally brought them to the table. Furthermore, the Saudis have very little to do with the day to day business of the club. As far as I can tell based on the excellent work of some of the reporters in the North East, they were involved in only some of the bigger decisions regarding the club. Examples include hiring the manager, interviewing finalists for the Director of Football role, the decision to go after Bruno Guimarães, and some of the long term projects for the club such as the revamped training facility or whatever they plan on doing with SJP. Howe likely deals with Staveley and Reuben who seem pretty hands on in player contract negotiations, transfer targets, hiring backroom staff, etc. I doubt we ever get a peep from Eddie regarding the Saudis and I anticipate going forward statements on anything related to Saudi Arabia would come from the club or Amanda Staveley. How Chelsea handled their situation with the Ukraine conflict is likely going to be what we would see from Newcastle. They only spoke in club statements, and Tuchel repeatedly refused to answer questions about the war. Even blowing up on reporters for asking him about it.
TSF: Now Newcastle can focus on the summer transfer window where endless players will be linked with the club. What are the three most important positions for them to focus on this off-season?
CHN: This is tough because Newcastle could really improve everywhere. I think Newcastle are fine in the midfield but will likely need an upgrade at some point in the next few seasons. It seems as if there are a plethora of midfielders to choose from as sides get relegated or players choose to chase a bigger paycheck in the Premier League. This is paired with the fact it seems as if every season a new crop of talented young midfielders appear from the other big leagues in Europe. So I would stay away from upgrading the midfield this summer. That doesn’t mean Newcastle won’t try and sign a midfielder with the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Frenkie De Jong, Youri Tielemans, Axel Witsel and others reportedly being available. I just don’t think it is the priority.
I think Newcastle should go after a striker, winger, and CB. Newcastle have 2.5 options at striker at the moment. Dwight Gayle is likely on his way back down to the Championship and Joelinton has still not proven to be an effective out an out striker. The only matches he started under Howe as a striker he has only scored once he got a move out to the wing or back into the midfield. Callum Wilson has yet to play a full season with Newcastle and Chris Wood seems to be past his prime. A young triker would be an excellent buy for Newcastle, the only issue is that young attackers come at a premium.
This brings me to the next position Newcastle should focus on: winger. Ryan Fraser and Allan Saint-Maximin have been the top two wingers for Eddie Howe thus far and unfortunately neither of them can stay healthy. ASM has stayed on the field for the most part this season and has been Newcastle’s most productive offensive player. He also has matches where he just loses focus and Newcastle struggles to attack effectively, especially if Fraser is out. Almirón and Jacob Murphy both are fine bench players but both lack the consistency to be effective throughout an entire match. If Newcastle can afford it, they should look to try to bring in another dynamic winger that is not as limited as Murphy and Almirón.
Finally, Newcastle need to bring in a CB. Jamaal Lascelles is the youngest CB who contributes to the team on the roster at age 28. Before the Dan Burn signing Newcastle had not signed a CB since August of 2018 when they brought in an aging Federico Fernandez. With Newcastle’s only CB signing since then being another older CB, and no other CB on the roster being able to hold down a spot next to Burn. I would be shocked if Newcastle did not go after a younger option to begin challenging for a starting spot at the club.
TSF: Which happens first, Newcastle makes the top four or St. James Park is fully renovated/rebuilt?
CHN: Even though building permits are a pain in the butt, I don’t see Newcastle making the top four in the next few years. Making the top four is ridiculously hard and requires a team that is incredibly deep. Newcastle still need to overhaul their squad, and even if they we able to do that in two years time, they would have to hit on every single signing they make. Something that is really hard to do, and something that they already have failed to do. Spending £20m on Chris Wood to be less than effective did not hurt Newcastle this season, but other mistakes like that will hurt down the road.
TSF: Of course, we have another Joe Willock question. It wasn’t a great start to the season for him. How have things been going these past few months and do you believe he factors into Howe’s plans for the club next year?
CHN: Willock had a good run in the midfield in the second half of the season. He actually was the reason Bruno Guimarães had a delayed run in the team for Newcastle. He was undroppable for a stretch and has really looked good under Howe. He brings a dynamic to the team that currently doesn’t exist with his ability to make those late runs into the box and score goals. Howe seems really fond of him and I don’t think there is any reason he should not be competing for a starting spot next season. Some of Newcastle’s best looking football this season came with a midfield trio of Guimarães, Joelinton, and Willlock.
TSF: On that theme, which current players seem to be 100% long-term pieces of this squad. Knowing that while anything can happen, in Newcastle’s point of view looking 2-3 years ahead who fits in that talent level, age, and player profile?
CHN: The first and most obvious player is Bruno Guimarães. He can play all over the midfield, and is currently the best midfielder at Newcastle while also being one of the youngest. I think Allan Saint-Maximin is in the conversation as a long term piece, but only if he consistently shows growth under Howe. If his production starts to drop off or his injury issues resurface I could see him getting sold before his value plummets. According to Howe it looks like Willock will be here for the long haul, especially if he continues to show growth under Howe. Even if he doesn’t reach the levels we all think he can, he projects to be a really solid depth midfielder that could be at the club for as long as he wants.
Joelinton is another player who Eddie has publicly praised. Since becoming a midfielder Joelinton has quite possibly been Newcastle’s best player across the whole season. The main issue he is going to run into is that Eddie still sees him as an attacker. Now in his moments out wide under Howe he has looked comfortable, even scoring a brace in a match. But, again this needs to be a consistent behavior for him to stick around as a cornerstone of the squad. Lastly, I think if Freddie Woodman chooses to come back to Newcastle and compete for a starting role he could be in the mix as a long term piece. Howe priortizes development and Freddie has by far been the best academy product of recent years.
Honorable mentions include the Longstaff brothers who like Woodman might benefit from playing under a manager that priortizes developing players. Matt Targett will likely also stick around for the next few seasons. The only reason I did not include him in the initial list is that he is on loan and no agreement to make him permanent has been announced. He’s been great for Newcastle this season and has a home as a depth piece if Newcastle chose to go with a more attack minded option at left-back. Additionally some savvy veterans like Jonjo Shelvely, Kieran Trippier, Martin Dubravka, and Fabian Schär who are going to be able to stay at the club as long as they want. Howe likes them as leaders and I doubt he willingly sells them.
TSF: There are reports that USMNT center back Cameron Carter-Vickers is potentially on Newcastle’s summer shopping list. What is your take on that rumor, the odds the club might make that move, and how big of a priority is CB depth right now?
CHN: I tend to be skeptical of Newcastle rumors, but this one does make sense. CCV is having the best season of his career thus far on loan at Celtic. The overal fee for him to join Celtic is not high, but certainly a lot of money for a club in the Scottish league. If they signed him it would be the most they have paid for a defender in the history of the club. CCV fills the need Newcastle have as a young CB who does not need to come in and start right away. A player like him can ease into the starting XI and hold it down for years to come. It helps that he played under Newcastle assistant Jason Tindall while Tindall was the head couch at Bournemouth so there is some familiarity there. Again, Newcastle are looking for younger CBs and this seems like an option that would not break the bank.
TSF: What formation should Arsenal expect them to use in this match and who is in your predicted starting XI?
CHN: Newcastle usually roll out in a 4-3-3 or some variation of it. Sometimes it looks more like a 4-4-1-1 when defending. With Trippier and Wilson returning from injury in the last match I fully expect Eddie to start them. Shelvey missed the last match with a calf injury, but I doubt he is out again for this match.
Newcastle XI (4-3-3) : Dubravka, Trippier, Schär, Burn, Targett, Shelvey, Guimarães, Joelinton, Almirón, Wilson, Saint-Maximin)
TSF: And finally, give us your prediction for how the match will go.
CHN: I honestly think this will be a fun one. Let’s go with a 2-2 draw.
Thanks to Elijah Newsome and Coming Home Newcastle for taking the time to talk with us.