By Chris Harris
The Kevin Keegan roadshow rolls into town this weekend as Newcastle's very own comeback kid takes charge of his first away game since making a shock return to St. James' Park.
Keegan has single-handedly lifted the gloom on Tyneside after agreeing to succeed Sam Allardyce as Newcastle boss - just three months after insisting that his managerial career would not be resurrected.
Amid the fervour which greeted Keegan's return, there was a reality check. His reign kicked off with an uninspiring 0-0 draw against Bolton which reminded all and sundry that, although Keegan will bring style back to Newcastle, they still lack substance.
Alan Oliver of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle has seen a host of managers come and go at St. James' Park. Here he gives his verdict on Keegan's return, the challenge he faces, the contrast with Allardyce, strengthening the Newcastle side and the prospect of a trip to Emirates Stadium.
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"This is a different city now that Kevin Keegan is back. You can just walk outside and see the smiles on the faces of everybody. There's only one man in the world who could have had this effect on Newcastle United Football Club and that's Keegan. I don't know how they will do against Arsenal on Saturday but it will be a different Newcastle to the one that played under Sam Allardyce. He's already given the players confidence. Some people get upset when we call him 'The Messiah' and speak of a second coming but he has that effect.
"I was surprised he came back. We ran a poll before the announcement and Keegan only got 40 per cent of the votes. I'd seen what he said about not having seen a match for two years, I saw the interview he did in October saying he wouldn't come back into football. But we should have known because anything is possible with Newcastle and Kevin Keegan. It's the only job he would come back to.
"It is a big job for him, it's a lot harder in the Premier League now. When Kevin came back last time he was given quite a bit of money to spend, although his first signing was Brian Kilcline for £250,000 and the money had to be taken out of the bank account of Sir John Hall's wife, Lady May. But he was given money to spend and he brought in some fantastic players. People keep saying that Newcastle haven't won anything for years and years and of course that's correct, but don't forget they have had some fantastic players in the last 20 years - Shearer, Ferdinand, Ginola, Philippe Albert, Asprilla, Rob Lee - I could go on forever."
"To tell the truth Sam only spend £9 million net - he spent £23 million on players and got £14 million back for Kieron Dyer and Scott Parker. The signings have not been such a success. Geremi has not been a success and when they signed Abdoulaye Faye I wondered why they signed him. He's done quite well because he can play in central defence or as a holding midfielder. The guy at right back, Habib Beye, he's not bad. Barton has been a big disappointment. Apart from his troubles off the field, he hasn't really looked the player we saw at Manchester City since he returned from that metatarsal injury. For me, last season he carried City on his own virtually. Despite what you might read in the press, he won't be involved on Saturday. On the whole though, Sam's signings have been a disappointment.
"Kevin is definitely looking for a centre half. He's desperate for a creative midfielder, dare I say like Dyer. If you remember last year when Newcastle went to the Emirates, Dyer was just back from injury and it was he who scored that fantastic goal. He led Newcastle's revival last season. They are desperate to have player with 'legs' or creativity in midfield. Arsenal should be vastly superior to Newcastle in midfield in both games coming up."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"The rest of this season is about restoring confidence, next season is when Keegan will be looking to make a bigger impact. Newcastle are in 12th place in the table and they've got to play seven of the teams above them away from home, so obviously it will be difficult. There are two derby matches against Sunderland and Middlesbrough at St. James' Park, so it shows that under Sam Allardyce Newcastle had quite an easy start to the season. If you remember they were due to play Arsenal in the first week but the game was postponed because of Arsenal's European commitments. Newcastle didn't play any of the 'big four' until the end of November, so they've got some very difficult fixtures coming up."
"There will be no more defensive tactics. Newcastle went to Fulham just before Christmas and we said that if Allardyce had sent the players out and told them to 'go and play', Newcastle would have won 4-0. But Sam was obsessed with being negative, and he would have been happy with a 0-0 that day. In the event Newcastle won 1-0 with a late penalty from Joey Barton. Just to show the different mood, I was just on the phone with Keegan and he told me to remind people that Newcastle are unbeaten since he took over. It wasn't the best of goalless draws with Bolton on Saturday but his attitude is to be positive.
"I don't fancy Newcastle's chances at the Emirates but if they can come away still in the Cup tie, people will think they can go on and win it. Newcastle have already been there this season and were beaten by Arsenal's reserves in the Carling Cup. But you never know with Kevin Keegan, he's just been saying that Arsenal will be smarting from the defeat against Spurs and it's up to Newcastle to cash in on that."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"I'm absolutely in love with Arsenal. When we came down to the Emirates, the whole set-up is fantastic, the press room, the way we are treated, everything. The stadium is magnificent and there were 60,000 there even though everyone knew Arsenal wouldn't have the first team out. I went back on the Tube at Finsbury Park and I saw all the young kids with their Arsenal tops on and I just felt that Newcastle United are a million years away from Arsenal. Ever since that night I've been a massive Arsenal fan and Newcastle fans seem to think the same."