The capture of Rafael Benitez, for Newcastle, represents a coup, a major one. A Champions League winning coach, with spells in Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Inter Milan, getting the trophy-laden manager to manage a side struggling in the Premier League relegation spots was a major achievement for the Tyneside club.
Much credit would go to the manager for remaining with the club through their run with relegation, picking up the EFL Championship trophy at first try and thus bringing the club back to the Premier League the following year.
However, it seems that a brush with a lower tier has resulted in the ex-Liverpool manager accepting of lower standards and expectations.
The game against Arsenal was one of such displays. It would be modest to state the Magpies game against the Gunners was mediocre, to say the least. With player movement and positioning well orchestrated – tactics practised in training sessions obvious, the Magpies had the better of the first half against the Gunners.
However, the players were guilty of showing lack of ambition and the killer instinct on getting to the final third.
It should be strange that a manager, who’s picked up major trophies everywhere – with the comeback in the 2005 Champions League finals still indelibly embedded in the memory of football fanatics – would be unable to sharpen a squad’s effectiveness in front of goal.
The players showed a lack of confidence and it seemed like they went into the game to “figure things out” rather than push for a result.
The Magpies had the earliest opportunity to put the Gunners on the back foot, with a chance coming on the 1st minute when Matt Richie on the ball, with Joselu making the run-up front, the midfielder chose the safer option – to pass across to defender Federico Fernandez.
Another opportunity almost followed in the 2nd minute, from a free-kick, Magpies midfielder Matt Richie sent a long cross into the Gunners’ eighteen, but Federico Fernandez chose simply to head into no man’s land across Cech’s goal, rather than seek precision and locate a teammate.
With one of Newcastle’s strengths being in set-pieces, the winger could have been more direct in pushing for a more clear-cut chance.
All through this period, the Gunners had not had a sniff of Martin Dubravka’s goal.
A more robust display of intent paid off just on the edge of full-time, when Federico Fernandez from the right channel, crossed the ball deep into the eighteen and connected with the head of Ciaran Clark, revealing what the players were capable of if only they had been more precise.
If the Magpies had taken their chances in the first half, on going to the well-taken free kick by Granit Xhaka, Newcastle would have been two up, possibly having a positive 2 – 1 scoreline.
The Magpies ground out a draw against Crystal Palace and the feeling around the North East England club should be relief that, possibly, the opportunities to get their season together still lie within reach.
Much blame has been laid on Magpies’ owner, Mike Ashley, for the lack of investment. And this could be rightly so.
However, Benitez, with top class credentials, should be able to squeeze that extra juice of motivation from his players.
And he would need to do so if they are to remain in the Premier League.