Support for Callum Wilson, the goalkeeping situation and what to do with Miguel Almiron? Five dilemmas facing Eddie Howe ahead of Newcastle United’s clash with Arsenal
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Whilst many would agree that Newcastle’s performance at the weekend against Brentford was a major improvement, failing to secure their first win of the season was a huge missed opportunity.
In attack they looked fearsome, however, defensively, Newcastle were once again found lacking with their opponents able to cut through them with ease on occasions.
Here, we take a look at five selection and tactical dilemmas facing the new Head Coach:
It was a surprise to see Karl Darlow named as Newcastle’s man between the sticks on Saturday - even though Howe had warned about Martin Dubravka’s match fitness pre-match.
Dubravka’s return to action for Slovakia led to calls for him to be reinstated as Newcastle United’s no.1, however, it was Darlow that continued in goal.
Whilst continuity between the personnel in defence and in goal can be a benefit, some sort of change in that department looks like being required.
After being unable to stop Ivan Toney’s strike early on, Darlow looked shaky all afternoon, failing to be the commanding force that we have become accustomed to.
United have the joint-worst defensive record in the league this season and are yet to keep a clean-sheet, maybe a return to the side for Dubravka could help settle the defence and improve their chances of recording their maiden clean-sheet?
Jacob Murphy and Matt Ritchie lined up as wing-backs on Saturday, but often found themselves acting as wide midfielders in a 3-4-3, a far-cry from their roles under Steve Bruce.
The pair were a constant threat going forward at the weekend, however, they were left exposed when caught on the counter, something they simply cannot afford to do against Arsenal.
Players like Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka will revel in space vacated by Ritchie and Murphy meaning they need to find a balance between attack and defence.
This isn’t a call for the side to revert to the hugely cautious approach of previous weeks, however, a reality-check is needed.
Murphy and Ritchie need to balance their attacking instincts with their defensive duties on Saturday, or else their opponents could run wild.
Howe’s selection of Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Willock in the middle of midfield on Saturday was a bold call.
Shelvey, to his credit, was one of Newcastle’s stand-out performers against Brentford with his great range of passing causing a constant threat to the Bees’ back-line and his performance overshadowed what was a steady display by Willock next to him.
However, will this be the pairing that take to the field on Saturday, or will Willock have to watch the clash against his former side from the bench with somebody a bit more defensive-minded taking his place?
Isaac Hayden could be the man tasked with adding solidity into the middle of the park, allowing Shelvey the freedom to dictate the play as he did so successfully against Brentford.
Mikel Arteta’s side will want to control the midfield on Saturday and reshuffling the men in Newcastle’s midfield may help to combat this.
Support for Wilson
Surprisingly, Callum Wilson was not one of the three players to get themselves on the scoresheet on Saturday.
After Jamaal Lascelles’ opener, Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin, the two men who were picked to support Newcastle’s no.9, were the other two to grab themselves a goal.
Both players were a menace all game as Saint-Maximin’s trickery, supported by Joelinton’s constant pressing and harrying of opposition defenders, offered plenty of opportunities in-front of goal.
The two often started out-wide but looked most dangerous when they came inside and attacked the goal, finding the half-spaces between the defence.
Most of Wilson’s career at St James’s Park to date has seen him isolated up-front, however, this was flipped on its head on Saturday as both Saint-Maximin and Joelinton offered support throughout the 90 minutes.
Supporters will want to see this replicated at The Emirates and finding a way of getting Wilson support, whilst also ensuring the defence and midfield have enough cover will be a tricky task, however, there is renewed optimism that a balance can be struck and that the striker does not find himself isolated for the full game.
What to do with Almiron?
With the clash against Brentford coming straight after an international break, it was unsurprising to see Miguel Almiron start on the bench at St James’s Park.
When Saint-Maximin went down injured near the end of time, the Paraguayan was stripped and looked ready to come, however, there was clearly a change of heart and the Frenchman stayed on the pitch.
Just one viewing of an Eddie Howe-team would show that a player like Almiron, with his work-rate and ability on the ball, would be an ideal fit for the team and the system.
But where would he fit into the current Newcastle United side?
The trio of Wilson, Saint-Maximin and Joelinton were fantastic on Saturday, meaning it’s unlikely that Almiron would be able to displace one of them.
A midfield role could be in the offing, but once again, displacing Shelvey could be a hard task.
And even a cursory glance at the bench shows another player in the same mould as Almiron - Ryan Fraser.
Fraser’s assist for Saint-Maximin’s goal was a joy to behold and many will hope he can rediscover some of the electric form he showed under Howe at Bournemouth.
All of this means Almiron faces a tough battle to regain his place in the first-team - can Howe find a system that complements all of his attacking players?