So, ultimately, we couldn’t add the Arsenal scalp to our collection for the season and The Gunners, left NE1 with all of the points. Tactically, Pardew had choices to make and whether or not the manager was overly cautious or simply pragmatic is a subject for great debate but what is certain is we were undone by a bit of a soft goal. Although Arsenal’s passing, possession and movement was excellent, I never felt they really opened us up much or created that much either. Maybe because I’m thinking in such terms about a home game underlines the differences in expectations between the two clubs. Arsenal will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season and I think we’ll be satisfied with eighth. As a containment strategy, I don’t think anyone can really suggest anything other than Pardew’s plan worked but when it came to taking the game to Arsenal, we struggled a bit and I’ll put my cards on the table with regards to Remy – he is being badly used as a lone striker and I fear the same loss of form for him as has befallen Cisse. Playing the lone striker or even target man is just not either striker’s game.
Whether playing Shola (and I take the point about his lack of goals but we don’t have any other options right now) might have allowed us to get amongst them in their defensive positions we’ll never know. I really don’t think the Arsenal defence can take getting knocked about and with Shola in the side, Remy is more effective. Maybe Pardew was playing for a point?
So it goes, we’ll just have to dust ourselves down and head for West Brom, still hopefully in good spirits after getting to the half way stage on 33 points and in confident mood. The sun shone on us for the Boxing Day fixture with Stoke City at St James’ Park and we’ll have to take the rough with the smooth. I don’t feel we’ve particularly benefitted from refereeing decisions (Howard Webb at Swansea anyone?) this season and I’m sure there will be occasions this season again when we’ll wonder what is going on in the heads of match officials.
West Brom is an opportunity for us to get amongst the points. We always seem to have a good contest with The Baggies but with our lucky Yellow and Blue kit surely on the bus for the West Midlands we will be in good heart. With Man City (h) looming on the horizon, it would help our collective mental state were we to get something at The Hawthorns.
I know we all love the feast of football there is at this time of year but I do accept it is exhausting for the players. It must be mentally and physically draining to perform at that level three times in a week. Although they do get paid absolute fortunes and should really know better than to whinge about not being able to have extra Yorkshires on Christmas Day, well, they are human (well, the jury is out on Lee Cattermole) and that’s why, despite really wanting a good run in the FA Cup this season, I’d change the team for Cardiff (h) in the Cup. There’s an opportunity to play Haidara at left-back from the start and even Santon down the right. I’d also try (S) Taylor and Mbwia at the centre of defence and I think I’d like to see Dummett brought back in as well. There are others who should be chomping at the bit to get into the side from the start and they are: Papiss Cisse, Gabriel Obertan, Gael Bigigrama, Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Guitteraz and Sylvain Marveaux (whatever happened to him?). Vurnon Anita might also be considered from the start as well. They should all be there or thereabouts around the first team this coming Saturday and this is their opportunity to put pressure on what has become a fairly settled team. I think Pardew could select from those players I’ve picked out above and escape criticism of not taking the FA Cup seriously.
It is so important for us as a club and a group of supporters to have a really good run in the FA Cup. Obviously, how far we would ever get is dependent upon the luck of the draw but I don’t think it’s being disrespectful to Cardiff to say we should be in the fourth round come tea time. The Bluebirds might be forgiven for concentrating on PL survival but for the neutral observer, the prospect of a Vincent Tan / Craig Bellamy combination at Cardiff would provide great viewing. Who knows who Bond villain Tan (that tucked in football shirt, high belt combo is never going to catch on is it?) will get to manage his club but where I am with Cardiff is being relieved it’s not us providing the early 2014 football car-crash for an amused nation. There’s time for that though. There’s no room for smugness amongst us lot with Joe Kinnear as Director of Football.
By the time I next start typing up this old guff, the transfer window will have opened. We are in a really strong position. We must represent a good option for any number of players looking to move to a strong team heading in the right direction. Although Alan Pardew’s fiscal commentary swings from us being virtually on the bones of our arses in August to us being financially strong in December, it really is a mug’s game attempting to work out what the hell is going to happen with Ashley’s grip tight around the Toon biscuit tin. The way I see it, we really need to sign at least one striker on a permanent deal and ideally another two. With Goufrann unconvincing as a striker for me (but pretty exceptional down the flank) we have two strikers on the club’s books – namely, Shola, who cannot get through a full game and hasn’t scored since the Napoleonic war. I expect this season to be his last at United. Then there is Cisse who is still out of form. Of course there’s Adam Campbell but he’s not really in contention. That’s our lot. Of course we do have Remy on loan but the trail on him coming here permanently has gone cold. We run the risk of ending the season with Cisse as our lone striker. Now is the time ideally for us to do what we should have done last summer and sign the kind of striker Pardew obviously wants – a target man. Whether that will be Gomis remains to be seen but ideally, I’d love to see Remy signed up as well. I accept he still has a court case hanging over him which complicates matters.
I have to say Williamson’s form has removed the urgency for us to sign a new centre-half and I’m satisfied that Steven Taylor’s return to the first team is proving more difficult than he and his agent (Willie McKay) might have imagined. So if I was sending a belated list to Santa I’d be asking for two strikers, preferably one being Loic Remy.
Of course that is dependent upon no-one going out the door. Personally, I think Yohan Cabaye would be mental to leave Newcastle United at the moment. He’s the main man, the central point of our system and team. Not to put too fine a point on it, the manager loves him and I really don’t see him having that status anywhere else further up the food chain. He may be attracted to going to PSG but with a 70%+ rate of tax that might not make much sense for his bank balance. I could see him doing well in Italy but maybe Yohan needs to reflect that maybe this is the best place for him. Unless like Demba Ba, he’s happy sitting on the bench watching the numbers rack up in his bank account. I suspect Cabaye has a proper idea about his career though. If Cabaye is to go though, the club is right to ensure it squeezes every penny out of the buying club. How much did Man Utd pay for Fellaini? That’s what we have to be looking for if Cabaye is to go?
The other players to have attracted speculation are Hatem Ben Arfa and Tim Krul. I don’t think there is much of a chance of HBA getting a move to a Champions League side. There are far too many unanswered questions for him at the moment though I do suspect if someone came in with a £15m offer, we’d take it. I’m not sure about Tim Krul going for big money. For me Tim is still developing and whilst there have been days when he’s made the whole of football sit up (Spurs(a)) there have been others when I can imagine scouts from Juventus et al have put their note-books away as our Dutch international has flapped at crosses here and there.
As ever, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and second guessing Ashley is just impossible. Will he be happy that we could be bomb-proofed against relegation by the end of January and decide to keep his (our) money? Or will he make some football decisions? Ones that will take the club forward and help us believe actually, after all, there is still some ambition for Newcastle United FC.
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I know it’s that time of year when people get a bit maudlin but for 2014, I’d really like to see United lift the ban of the local press – newspapers that have covered United since 1892. This is very damaging to the club’s reputation. I’d also like to see the club use the occasion of the New Year to respond to efforts of the Football Supporters Federation and the Newcastle United Supporters Trust and restore the NUST to the Fans Forum, thereafter properly agreeing a protocol and standing orders but also agreeing that no-one party of the Fans Forum can expel another. I’d also like to see those others involved in the Fans Forum to withdraw from it whilst the only members based, properly constituted representative body is restored. There has been a lot of calls for “unity amongst the fans” (a lot of it completely phoney) but now is the opportunity to prove that’s what people really want and isn’t just a flag of convenience. I’m not holding my breath.
We also need to know what is going on with NUFC.DIRECT – Newcastle United’s online merchandising arm is owned 100% by Sports Direct. Where does the money that supporters spend on club merchandise, to support the club, actually go?
We should be told what the club’s plans are to address the amounts of commercial income coming into United. We can’t have people saying we can’t compete with Tottenham etc. when we aren’t stirring our arses to bring in any income to make sure we do. That needs to be addressed.
Every area of the club’s financial operation should be explained because the numbers, the debt, the income have huge question marks hanging over them.
The club knows the questions that are out there and should answer them.
Many, many thanks for supporting true faith over 2013 and we hope you do in 2014. On behalf of everyone associated with true faith, may I wish you all a healthy, secure and happy New Year!