Newcastle United fans are not happy. They aren’t happy that Rafael Benitez is no longer the manager after guiding the team back to the Premiership following relegation. They’re not happy about how his departure went down. And they’re especially not happy with team owner Mike Ashley who has the team on the sales block. Ashley hasn’t given the squad the proper financial support over the past two seasons and yet Benitez did as much as he could with what he had. Despite Ashley’s lack of interest in the team Benitez guided the Magpies to finishes of 10th in 2017 and 13th in 2018.
Benitez landed on his feet taking a lucrative gig in China while Newcastle management has tried to suggest that the Spanish manager was difficult to work with. Salomón Rondón–arguably the team’s best player–followed Benitez to China. Steve Bruce is the new man on the sidelines at St. James’ Park and he couldn’t have assumed the gig in a worse set of circumstances. The Guardian’s take on the environment in which Bruce will make his Newcastle United debut:
On Sunday afternoon against Arsenal, at the age of 58, Bruce will finally be involved with Newcastle in a competitive fixture. The conditions, though, are extraordinarily difficult, with the fans in near revolt, with many pining for his predecessor and the centre-forward who has followed him to China, threatening boycotts and regarding Bruce in some way as an agent of Mike Ashley’s despised ownership. For a long time Newcastle have been less Aladdin than Allardyce.
Considering Bruce as a proxy for Mike Ashley is unfair–Ashley called with a dream gig and what was Bruce supposed to do? The disgruntled fanbase–or at least a vocal minority of them–are planning to boycott Newcastle United’s opener. In addition to Rondon, they lost Ayoze Perez in the offseason. Newcastle won 3 of their last 5 down the stretch last year and have won 4 of their last 6 at St. James’ Park.
The problem at Arsenal is defense, or more appropriately lack thereof. They should be able to put plenty on the board but there’s not been much of an upgrade to a defense that allowed more goals than only four teams–all of which finished 14th or lower and two of which were relegated. The Gunners have won 4 of their last 6 away in all competitions and beat Newcastle United twice last year at home and away. Newcastle has really struggled against Arsenal at St. James’ Park with only 1 win in the last 11 meetings. They’ve lost 6 of their last 7 to the Gunners.
Not sold on Arsenal being able to improve open last year’s 5th place finish though there’s no guarantee that Chelsea and Tottenham will match last year’s performance either. At any rate, they should be able to beat a dispirited Newcastle United Side even with their significant defensive issues.