There was a long stretch last season when Newcastle felt like an impregnable fortress, a Death Star in the making, as they amassed the fewest losses in the Prem and the most draws on their way to finishing fourth. There was heady talk of them rising from the ashes, of restoring Newcastle to some semblage of its former glory, and there was not any talk at all of sportswashing of the entirely benevolent Saudi Public Investment Fund. All hail Krull and his glorious new regime. The sportswashing and success have sputtered ever so slightly, but that doesn’t mean that we can waltz into St. James’s Park unawares.
Even if Newcastle’s season has stumbled out of the gates, what with two losses and three draws already, we’ll have to be at our best. Even with their injury crisis rivalling if not eclipsing our own, we’ll have to be at our best. This fixture has to stand as one of the sternest tests of our mettle. Even if Newcastle will be without Barnes, Isak, Botman, Andersen, Murphy, Targett, and Tonali, they went into Old Trafford and thrashed those devils 0-3. Even if thrashing Man U is trending these days, we’ll have to be at our best. Enough anaphora.
Let’s spare a thought for Tonali, served with a ten-month ban for gambling. If one man could tarnish the reputation of an entire country, he’s done it. To this point and down through the annals of history, Italy has stood as a lighthouse, a shining beacon of morality and stability in an otherwise crass, cynical, and corrupt world. The mere suggestion of unsavory behavior would stand as an affront to the collective conscience. If you can’t trust an Italian footballer to be pure as the driven snow, well, then, what’s left? This might very well be the first-ever example of scandalous behavior on the part of anyone involved in Italian football, and I am sure that it will be the last.
One player to watch amidst Newcastle’s injury-crisis (and moral ambivalence) will be one of our own, one Joe Willock. He shined against Man U, scoring the third goal. Will he see this fixture as a chance to show his boyhood club what it’s been missing? It’s an increasingly pertinent question given that he’d play where the uneven Havertz and ever-injured Smith Rowe play. I won’t go so far as to suggest that we should have held onto Willock, but we’d be wise to be wary. Enough alliteration already.
For ourselves, we have to hope that the disappointment of losing away to West Ham midweek fuels our fire. We were far from our best, and that’s putting it mildly. It was equal parts poor squad selection and poor performance on the pitch (dammit, alliteration…). Having rested key players like Rice, Saliba, Saka, Martinelli, and Ødegaard, we should go into St. James’s Park fresh and fiesty, not to mention with something to prove after suffered our first loss of consequence. If we can come away with a draw, I’ll be satisfied. If we can come away with a win, I’ll be ecstatic.
At a risk of being presumptuous, I’d assume that Arteta will restore Raya after Ramsdale’s uneven display against West Ham, with Zinchenko, Magalhães, Saliba, and White ahead of him. I suspect that we’ll see RIce, Jorginho, and Ødegaard reprise the roles they played in the 1-0 defeat over Man City, with Martinelli and Saka either side of Nketiah (the safe choice) or Havertz (my preference).
If I may be so bold, I think such a lineup would be strong enough to see us escape with a 0-1 or even 0-2 result. What say you? Share your predictions in the comments-section below!