Before this game and due to a series of events involving a haircut, a bairn’s party deposit and the Metros acting themselves, I found myself walking into the town from Jesmond. As I came up Jesmond Road I caught sight of the Leazes end stand looming impressively against the belatedly pleasant spring sky and something came over me I haven’t felt in a long time.

Suddenly I felt excited. Not just about seeing my mates for a few drinks as was the appeal for so many years, but excitement for the game itself, the atmosphere and anticipation of the possibility of getting a great result. For so long this feeling had been missing as we attended blindly out of loyalty, beset with anxiety as we laboured for our place in the top flight, or to make voices heard against varying levels of mismanagement.

Right now, and today in particular, everything is alright. This game highlighted a feelgood factor that may well prove to be another false dawn, but the permanently dour and intrinsically miserable among you, might want to skip most of this report (barring a brief caveat at the end).

Much was made of Arsenal feeling the after-effect of a Europa League trek to Moscow as improving our odds in this game. The team the Gunners put out made six changes from the one focussing on Europe, but annoyingly this still allowed a front two of Lacazette and Aubameyang, not bad if you can afford it.

United started brightly, crucially Shelvey looked on top form again and his ball over the top for Gayle was the stuff of many a Championship goal last year. Monreal is a bit better than your average Championship defender though, and crowded Dwight out. Kenedy had a solid shot on target, but it was easy stuff for Cech.

Meanwhile, Arsenal were looking alarmingly good on the break, and that annoyingly expensive good front pairing used this type of occurrence to devastating effect. Mustafi knocked a fine pass to Aubameyang on the left, and he fired across to Lacazette who slid in to complete a lethal counter. Bugger, maybe they weren’t that knackered.

This is no longer the Newcastle United who would collapse at such a setback though. There was an air of serene calm about the measured response and it took less than 15 minutes to restore parity. Shelvey picked another killer pass to Gayle, who was forced slightly wide but found Yedlin there in support. The flying full-back squared the ball with pace and there was Perez, yet again producing a magnificent finish with a deft touch to beat Cech at the near post. Beautiful.

To be fair, Arsenal had the best of the half from here, almost creating a carbon copy of their goal as Mustafi neatly headed across for Callum Chambers to belt it wildly into the Gallowgate end. The same player had their next best chance but elected again to miss by miles, this time heading from a corner.

The run of Gunners pressure brought a raucous response from their notoriously loud support, with one bloke crinkling a crisp packet while someone with a bit of a cold gave a throaty cough every couple of minutes.

The second half fell a bit flat for a while as Arsenal had the best of possession and United did what they’ve done so well of late, working, fighting and battling for everything. It felt like every time an Arsenal attack became worrying, Mo Diame appeared from out of nowhere to break it up. It was almost as though there were trap doors all over the pitch he was popping in and out of, a trick pioneered by evil Grimthorpe City boss Gus Parker in an old Billy the Fish cartoon. This just goes to show how thoroughly and extensively Rafa studies tactics.

In spite of the spirited show, United were starting to look a bit lethargic up front. This changed dramatically with the withdrawal of the tiring Gayle for Slimani, who showed emphatically what difference, quality striking options can make. This seemed a better look at the Algerian than we got against Huddersfield and I can see a player this club could grow to adore if we’re given the chance.

Slimani is strong, powerful, great in the air and surprisingly quick for a big lad. What I found especially impressive was what a team player he was shaping up to be, given that the lad has 6 games to impress someone enough to play him next season.

The above factors were all combined decisively within 5 minutes. With four Arsenal defenders dithering around him over a high ball, Slimani zipped in and powered a header into the box. Perez gave a deft flick to nudge the ball on to Ritchie, who had time and space to take a touch and smash a right footer past Cech.

Slimani continued to thrive, first skinning Mustafi before squaring for Perez to be foiled twice, then releasing Kenedy with a terrific through ball. Mustafi did better this time, getting a block on the Brazilian’s effort, but the deflection spun up dangerously onto the bar.

Into the last ten minutes, the Arsenal fans made their only sound since their goal, chanting for the removal of the manager who has led them to three titles, seven FA cups and basically paid for their ground. Apparently this is a debate we wouldn’t understand, given that Arsenal have such a pedigree of success compared to our own meagre pickings. I didn’t realise it took such high scale empathy to be qualified to identify a spoilt bastard but I’ll bear this in mind next time I see an appallingly raised child willfully sh…ing on the floor of the Metrocentre because their parents are incapable of dealing with their sugar-fuelled insistence on some Paw Patrol-related uber-rubbish. I’ll just mind my own business.

The final whistle was celebrated wildly, with the subsequent lap from Rafa and the players giving off an air of end of season celebration in front of a still-full ground – 41 points reached and surely safety rubber stamped. Unlike his opposite number, our manager’s stock could not be higher as we can look forward to enjoying the end of the season free of pressure for the first time in what feels like decades.

I did promise something for the old farties though, so here’s a word of caution.

This recent incredible run has been forged on the back of some incredible runs of form and an amazingly clear injury list. Were Perez or Diame to slip back into their early season selves, or should Lascelles or Ritchie find themselves on the treatment table, our squad is still pitifully thin on quality and depth.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that Mike Ashley will take this season’s achievements on little outlay as the green light to serve up similar austerity measures in yet another transfer window. I consider all 5 remaining games to be winnable – but even in this scenario there will be trepidation of the summer going awry.

At least, in the here and now, we have hope and happiness. Thanks Rafa.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 2 Arsenal 1

Goals:

Newcastle: Perez 29, Ritchie 68

Arsenal: Lacazette 14

Possession was Arsenal 72% Newcastle 28%

Total shots were  Arsenal 15 Newcastle 8

Shots on target were Arsenal 3 Newcastle 4

Corners were  Arsenal 5 Newcastle 2

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie (Murphy 86), Shelvey, Kenedy, Perez (Joselu 79), Gayle (Slimani 63))

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Manquillo, Clark, Hayden

Crowd: 52,210 (2,700 Arsenal approx)

(Alan Shearer revels in Newcastle win and has Piers Morgan and other Arsenal fans biting – Read HERE)

(United fan/writer instant reaction to the 2-1 victory – Read it HERE)

(Match ratings of all NUFC players after beating Arsenal – Read HERE)

(Arsene Wenger says Newcastle didn’t even deserve a point…Read HERE)

(Rafa Benitez reaction after final whistle – Read HERE)

(Garth Crooks revisits ‘Rafa could win Premier League with Newcastle’ comments – Read HERE)

(Mohamed Diame talks through the win over Arsenal and reaching PL safety – Read it HERE)

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

To feature like Jamie Smith submit your article to [email protected] and/or for more info go here


  • Andy Mac

    Bottom line. If Fatman does what he always does then we fans should stick it up him ? It’s our club not his !

    • wheyayeman

      Regarding the Bottom line – What do you propose that we fans stick up him, should said scenario transpire ?

      • Geordiegiants

        When said scenario transpires is what you should of said.

        • wheyayeman

          …. should have said ? 😂😂

    • ghostrider

      No mate it’s his club and sticking it up him means you are also sticking it up Newcastle United which is the club that you, me and every other Newcastle United fan supports.

      Rafa is a tenant and employee of Ashley, let’s not forget that just as every other person who works at and for the club is.

      People need to remember that you can’t keep kicking someone and expect them to hand out presents because you decide it’s time.
      If Ashley stays then fans need to start playing ball with him as well as Rafa and he may just play ball with the fans.

      The constant hatred and wanting him out will not help the cause.
      If he’s leaving anyway then there’s no cause for concern for those who want him out, except the concern of clinging to a hope that the new owners have more forward mindset and long term financial ability to keep it up.

      If he stays due to buyers having too much talk and not enough walk then it would benefit all if the fans , Ashley and Rafa, plus the obvious club employees in every capacity all pull together as one.

      If that happens you just might get Ashley to rekindle his desire to be a little bit more kinder…because it has to work both ways and for the sheer hatred and bile he’s took over the years, I think he got the message.

      Time to move on.

      • Leicester Mag

        I’ll remember this when Rafa walks and Lascelles is sold

        • ghostrider

          Rafa Benitez is being paid a king’s ransom as manager. Why would he walk?
          Lascelles might get sold if a club comes in and offers ridiculous money but it will literally take offers of over 50 million to get him, in my opinion.

          If a top club comes in then we are in no position to stop him leaving if he decided to go because all we would do is unsettled him.
          But then again it’s all if’s and but’s.

          Not many clubs will pay Rafa what we’re paying him.

          • Leicester Mag

            Not many will pay Rafa what we pay him? Do you seriously believe this? Or that this is why he is at Newcastle? The decider will be whether he is backed or not. Forgive me but history says otherwise

          • ghostrider

            I genuinely believe that, yes.

          • mentalman

            there’s only the top european, Chinese and premier league clubs who can afford to pay him what he would expect and he’s already stated china is a no go, his stock isn’t high enough to go back to the clubs in spain who could afford him, similarly Italy. That only leaves PSG and the top 6 in England. I personally can only see Arsenal being the only option out of the top 6 and PSG may be an option if they decide to change their manager.

            The rest of the premier league apart from Everton pay their managers nowhere near what rafa gets and they all seem to be going for cheaper options rather than pushing the boat out for a top quality manager

          • phildene

            Quite right too. Rafa has said he’s not here for the money at all but needs the backing of which he has been promised every single window, but which Ashley has failed to do. Ashley is a greedy confounded proven lair and to treat Rafa like this is appalling! Ashley has continued to pocket OUR CLUBS money every window as we should be sovereign but aren’t. We just hope either the takeover happens or Ashley has a rush of blood to the head and hands the clubs money over to Rafa if he’s still here

      • Fireman Sam

        Time for Mike Ashley to move on. He is bleeding the club dry. Do you think he cares less what we say or do? All he is bothered about now is all that TV money which is heading straight into his pocket.

        • ghostrider

          He’s far from bleeding the club dry.
          You can look at the accounts to see that.
          He’s actually an excellent owner who is keeping this club easily afloat by being clever.
          The issue is we, as fans, want more, obviously.

          How much more do we want?
          That’s the 64,000 dollar question, isn’t it?

          Ashley cannot win and never could since Keegan walked.
          The only time Ashley had some respite from a portion of hateful fans is when things looked good, as in Pardews first season after taking over from Hughton and the season when Pardew had us finishing 5th.

          Then when we were in the championship twice and basically enjoyed winning and enjoyable seasons, regardless.

          In between all of that Ashley is a monster who is robbing the club blind, when it suits certain fans.

          Some fans are so bitter…so consumed with hatred that they would still wish the worst on Ashley and make up anything that puts him down as some horrible scrooge, even if he handed out season tickets for free and paid for a seasons worth of night outs for every Newcastle fan.

          All because of Keegan, because that’s where all this stuff stems from and the rest of it is just added on hatred, as and when it suits.

          • Chuck D

            “As fans we want more” What, as in not have to see our team relegated every few years, our best players sold and the club run on a shoe string?!

            Oh and maybe not be lied to now and then.

            No it’s not all about Keegan you fool. It’s about 11 years of no stability, lack of investment (not just in playing staff but infrastructure), no ambition and total disrespect to the fans.

            I’ve told you Lee, find another hobby!

          • ghostrider

            No stability?
            We had no stability before Ashley took over which was the very reason the club was sold.
            You seem to want to forget that.
            The club also has not been run on a shoestring but it’s also not been run gungho.
            As for disrespect, I think he’s been pretty fair when you consider the utter bile and hatred he’s endured.
            He’s also invested but your term of investment appears to be big outlay and that doesn’t tell a real story with this club in this day and age of sugar daddy owners of the FA darling clubs.

      • Andy Mac

        Wow when do they let you out ? Let’s hope they increase the medication beforehand 🤔

        • ghostrider

          A month before your release on condition that you stop giving nurse Ratchet problems.

  • Paul Patterson

    There’s an article in the Telegraph that people should read, it’s bang on the nose about Rafa and the current state of Newcastle United.

    • Andy Mac

      Havent read it but let me guess ? Rafa says he wants to stay and take the club forward to the next level and Penfold’s saying we’re getting the stands painted with even more red white and shlte tacky advertising ?🤔

  • Fireman Sam

    It is not austerity, it is theft!

    Expenditure is lower than when he took over 11 years ago, and the income is up over 50% through the TV deal.

    The club should have more money than at any point in its history.

    Where is the money going Mike?

    • Monkseaton Magpies

      Over 60% goes on wages for start and according to the Sun today we have spent over £60m on transfers. The last accounts showed that we only had £1.75m left in the bank out of a turnover of £125m so yes it is being spent.

  • Monkseaton Magpies

    First of all did Murphy play no but he got on. Where were Merino and Atsu sitting in the stands. The full back signed in the Summer was on the bench. Is Murphy, Atsu or Merino happy no they are not as cannot get in the side. The squad is not weak could do with a couple more key players but that will push even more players out the squad. When the last accounts were published we had only £1.75m left in the bank so do not tell me that we spend no money and keep it as profit as it’s not true.

  • MadMag83

    Here’s what to expect;

    1)Ashley and Penfold sit down with Rafa, make him a few promises on transfers budgets etc.

    2) Rafa is happy with what he is promised and extends his contract.

    3) Ashley goes back on his promises saying players need to be sold before any come in, the budget must include wages and agents fees, and the Christmas tip for the postman.

    4) Rafa walks leaving the club in turmoil​. Ashley lines up Pardew and Carver.

    • phildene

      Rafa would never leave this club in turmoil and any sensible fan would know that. Rafa loves everything about this club apart from the owner, whom he simply gets on with. But there again you may not be a fan but a troll.

      I’m now wondering if your comment even warrants a reply

      • MadMag83

        A troll is calling me a troll? 😂

        You can’t have been a ‘fan’ long if you think love for the club alone will stop Rafa from walking. You may still have been swimming around your dads balls when a certain Kevin Keegan walked out on this club he loves because of Ashley.

      • Chuck D

        Points 1-3 happened last season if you remember!!

        Point 4 was narrowly avoided.