By The Telegraph
London, 27, November 2021: The wait goes on for Newcastle United, who have got all the way to the advent of the early Christmas decorations without a win in the Premier League and a reckoning of sorts awaits on Tuesday at St James’ Park for what could be one of the season’s defining moments.
The team with the richest football club owners in the world are poor in the currency that matters most: Premier League points.
Just six of them from the six draws in their first 13 games, a run so bad that only one team in Premier League history have gone so far without a win and survived, the Derby County of 2000/01. None of the other four to suffer the same fate had sovereign wealth funds waiting for them in January to help get them out of trouble, but Eddie Howe knows that it will take rather more than money alone.
The Newcastle United manager was on the touchline for the first time, after his Covid-19 recovery, and next faces Norwich City in his first home game in person on Tuesday. It is one that his side will have to win.
Howe was philosophical about this defeat to what he described as “one of the best teams in the league” and one could deduce from his team’s shape – deep, tight, narrow – that he had decided to risk it all on a defensive action. There were days when it might have worked against Arsenal, but their youngsters broke through Newcastle in the 56th minute, led by Bukayo Saka, the side’s exceptional player.
The goalscorer had to be replaced shortly afterwards having felt “something muscular” in his leg, according to Mikel Arteta, and will be scanned on Sunday. Saka’s replacement, Gabriel Martinelli, scored a beautifully taken second goal shortly after arriving to smooth away the memories of that humbling at Anfield last week.
There is certainly something to be admired in this young Arsenal team, whose manager acclaimed their “patience and composure” as they wore down the Newcastle resistance.
For Howe, who has had to do so much of his coaching and planning remotely this week after his positive Covid test, the challenge immediately is to keep his players from succumbing to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“We have some very good players here, and naturally we are lacking confidence having not won a game this season,” Howe said. “If we stay committed, it will come. The attitude of the players is very good.”
He had his complaints about a potential penalty for Callum Wilson, nudged by Nuno Tavares as he ran onto a sweetly struck Jonjo Shelvey through ball in the moments before the Martinelli goal. “The key moment,” Howe called it. “My live reaction was that I don’t understand why he [Wilson] would go down there.”
There did not even seem to be a review by the Var, Darren England. Referee Stuart Attwell waved play on, and it was not long before Martinelli hit Takehiro Tomiyasu’s cross from the right first-time and placed it beyond Martin Dubravka.
Howe was unhappy that many of the close refereeing decisions went against him, but he did not linger on it. He was out briskly afterwards for the post-match interviews and pushed back amiably on the gloomy prognosis for Newcastle’s season.
“My own experience helps me,” he said. “I know that nothing is finished until it is finished, and you can achieve remarkable things if you stay united and believe.” Indeed, Newcastle’s unsatisfactory start to the season has now fully morphed into the relegation fight that always threatened and, somewhere in the midst, what could be one of the most extraordinary January windows in Premier League history.
Never before has a club with so few points had so much money and potentially so few rival teams willing to sell them the players they need.
For the first half at least, Newcastle did manage to restrict Arsenal to a single notable chance – and what a chance it was, stroked against the post by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
If the Arsenal captain does little else on days like these, then it is to mop up the chances that fall to him in the right place at the right time.
It was made by a cross from Saka from the left, hit as he fell and headed goalward by Emile Smith Rowe. A save by Dubravka presented Aubameyang with the most simple of opportunities.
Matt Ritchie had done his very best against Saka, collecting a tactical booking along the way, but when finally the young England man switched to the left again in the second half, he and his teammates isolated full-back Emil Krafth.
Smith Rowe and then Tavares worked the triangle of passes and Saka was suddenly through, lashing a left foot shot past Dubravka and torpedoing the Newcastle game plan. The Martinelli goal came immediately after that Shelvey long ball and Wilson run. In the first half, Aaron Ramsdale had made a marvellous first half save from another good hit from Shelvey.
These are the moments that Howe was increasingly reliant on: something brilliant from amid the defensive shuttling and the keeping of the shape.
Against Norwich, one suspects that Howe will want his players to take control of the game and galvanise the support of a home crowd who feel a degree of optimism, despite results.
“It is difficult enough in the Premier League when you are fighting and scrapping for points,” Howe said, “so naturally everyone wants to get that first win as soon as possible. We have to look at our next game as an important game. They all are.”
The Saudi Arabia-led consortium financed by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund will see Tuesday as a major day in the great project of whatever it is they are trying to achieve with Newcastle.
With their bright new manager introduced to the Geordie nation and a new era beginning, this is now a takeover that has to plan for all eventualities.
Only one club have survived without a win in their first 13 games, and in 2000 Derby had two more points than Newcastle have at the same stage.
It would be fair to say that there are none among their Premier League peers who would be sorry to see them go. That sense of adversity will no doubt be felt by the fans, as well as Howe and his new bosses.
As for his players, it remains to be seen just how they might react.
Their manager will at least be able to coach them in person from now on, and the stakes could hardly be higher.