Newcastle United’s first game under the Eddie Howe era provided plenty of talking points - from selection calls, re-energised players and attacking intent.
This all unfolded whilst Howe watched the 3-3 draw with Brenford from his hotel room after receiving a positive Covid-19 test, just under 24 hours prior.
Here, Liam Kennedy and Jordan Cronin reflect on the result against the Bees and digest the key topics ahead of the trip to Arsenal on Saturday afternoon:
How do you reflect on the performance against Brentford?
LK: “I’ll be the first to admit I felt down that evening, having built this up into what felt like a must-win encounter. But with a few days to reflect I do feel a little differently. I actually think this was the best Newcastle United have played in an attack sense in years - and we’d be wrong not to take some confidence and positivity from that. Jason Tindall said it was not a performance befitting of a team bottom of the Premier League and I have to say I 100% agree. If they play like that week-in, week-out, they will win games. Fact.”
JC: “I think the best way to describe it was ‘organised chaos’. I say chaos because defensively it painted a similar picture to the previous 11 games but attacking-wise, it was so much more encouraging. And there were lots to enjoy. Newcastle attacked with intent - over 50% possession and 23 shots at goal, stats like that haven’t gone in United’s favour for a long time. The challenge for Howe is to get the balance right. If the defence can be tightened and individual mistakes can be cut out, the club will be just fine.”
Can Eddie Howe transform Joelinton into a consistent threat?
LK: “I’d argue he was already well on the path to that prior to Howe’s arrival. I pinpoint Joelinton’s turnaround to the West Brom game at the back end of last season. From that point on he seems to have got to grips with the physicality of the division. And when called upon has been a strong, committed presence at the top end of the field. If Joelinton plays like he did against Brentford every week from now until the end of the season, he’ll become a real asset for Howe and United.”
JC: “Well, the early signs certainly suggest Howe and his coaching staff can. Joelinton was one of the huge positives to emerge from Saturday with an all-round and relentless performance. Not only did he score but he was excellent in possession, both technically and physically, and worked his socks off for the team. His wasted chance at the end took the shine off a little but for a player who has been constantly scruntised, I’d accept a performance like that every day of the week.”
What changes should Eddie Howe make for the trip to Arsenal?
LK: “Martin Dubravka is by far the most important. He simply must play as he wins points on his own. Karl Darlow looked a bag of nerves after his early error, which was very unlike him. Maybe the pressure of having Dubravka knocking on the door for a recall has eventually got to him, too. Elsewhere, I find it tough not to make a case for Federico Fernandez, who, despite probably going over the hill slightly, is still United’s best defender. It makes you wonder if there’s something we don’t know from behind the scenes.”
JC: “The most obvious - and perhaps the most pressing - decision is to recall Martin Dubravka. That isn’t to completely discredit Karl Darlow because Newcastle have relied on him heavily over the last 12 months, but Dubravka is simply the better goalkeeper. His presence in between the sticks makes a huge difference - the club lost just three of its final 13 games when he played last season. In a defence that has leaked a shocking 27 goals in 12 games, Dubravka’s return could go a long way to aiding their frailties. The other is Federico Fernandez, his absence over the last couple of months is something of a mystery. Finally, perhaps Jamal Lewis and Javier Manquillo would be better suited as the wing-backs.”
Is the absence of Eddie Howe on the training pitch this week and potentially at the Emirates a blow?
LK: “Yes, a massive blow. But it is what it is. It isn’t ideal but there’s nothing anyone can do about it. United will still likely be better prepared than they ever were under Steve Bruce. That’s a bonus in itself.”
JC: “It definitely doesn’t help matters and there’s no doubt his voice and coaching style will be missed on the training pitch. However, in Jason Tindall, Stephen Perches, Simon Weatherstone and Graeme Jones, Howe has people he can trust entirely. Howe will do all he can from his hotel room in terms of reviewing footage, planning sessions and speaking to players but the rest falls on his backroom staff. Look, it’s not ideal preparation but Howe will try and make sure it doesn’t affect his players.”
Can Newcastle United beat Arsenal?
LK: “Of course they can. We should not be writing any games off between now and the end of the season. Every point is crucial - and we could do with three from the Emirates.”
JC: “Yes. Arsenal are still a strong side but a trip to the Emirates isn’t as daunting as it once was. Under Mikel Arteta, they can be very hit and miss and can be exploited defensively. It’s vice versa however, so Howe and Newcastle need to find a balance. Quite recently, the mentality has been for Newcastle to ‘write off’ games like this but the club is at a stage in the season where that can’t happen. The players must go to London and believe they can get a result.”