By Chris Harris
Life is never boring at St. James' Park.
Soundly beaten at Emirates Stadium in August, Newcastle's season rapidly went from bad to worse. Kevin Keegan resigned after a clash over transfer dealings and chairman Mike Ashley tried and failed to restore the Geordie 'messiah' amid massed protests by the club's fans. More eyebrows were raised when Joe Kinnear was installed as 'interim manager' but he steadied the ship before a health scare forced Kinnear to take temporary leave of his job.
The tension shows no sign of abating. Newcastle are hovering precariously above the relegation trap door with nine games to save their Premier League status. Frankly, they could do without a visit from one of the top-flight's in-form sides.
We asked Lee Ryder of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle for a local perspective ahead of Saturday's big game. Read on for his take on Kinnear's reign, Michael Owen's return, the player of the season and the need for a morale-boosting performance this weekend.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It has been a real rollercoaster and the problem is that the rollercoaster has had more dips than ups. It has been really tough. Every time you think there is light at the end of the tunnel, something else dramatic happens. It has been one drama after another. Quite a lot has happened since the last time Newcastle played Arsenal in August. We were well-beaten 3-0 down there and that was Kevin Keegan's last game in charge. Then there were the two controversial signings on transfer-deadline day - Nacho Gonzalez and Xisco - which ultimately led to Keegan quitting the club. Mike Ashley then tried to bring him back, the Newcastle fans protested, then Joe Kinnear came in and he's had his health problem. It has just been a real struggle off the pitch which has been reflected in the results because consistency is one thing that Newcastle just haven't had this season."
THE MAN IN CHARGE
"I don't think Joe Kinnear has done that bad a job. The problem he had when he first got here was that he couldn't sign players. He was motivating a bunch of players who, with no disrespect, were pretty shocked by Keegan's departure. I think he did a pretty good job of that but he was hit with a crippling injury crisis. All in all he didn't do badly up until his health scare and we've probably missed him because Newcastle have only won one game since.
"I think stability is what they need. I think the fans will probably want to see a proven European manager come in but I think that's unlikely to happen and I'm speaking as a fan when I say that. Joe Kinnear will probably come back from his health scare and he will be assisted by Colin Calderwood and Chris Hughton - that seems to be the direction they want to go in. It's a case of trying to survive and see if the current management team take them on."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"To be totally honest I'm not 100 per cent sure they have got the quality they need to steer clear of relegation. The quality players we are meant to have haven't turned it on in games. Michael Owen has had his injury problems and he was starved of service at Hull last week in his comeback game. Obafemi Martin was also starved of service in that game. So really it's about the big guns starting to put the ball in the back of the net and they're not doing that at the moment. That leaves Newcastle in deep trouble. My prediction is that Newcastle will probably stay up but will only just scrape it. We need three more wins and I don't see that coming against Arsenal. After that we've got Chelsea and we've still got to go to Aston Villa and Liverpool as well. They are hard games. I think Portsmouth, Fulham and Middlesbrough at home are the key games - if we win those we'll probably we safe. If not they could be preparing to go to Blackpool next season."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Michael Owen has had injuries ever since he came to Newcastle. It's vitally important that he stays fit and starts putting the ball in the back of the net because I can't see where else the goals are coming from. Credit to Steven Taylor who obviously scored against Arsenal in the corresponding fixture last season, he has scored three big goals this year. He scored at Hull last Saturday, he got the equaliser at Everton and scored at West Brom too in a 3-2 win. They were three big goals and if we stay up by a couple of points at the end of the season we'll look at Taylor's contribution and say thanks very much."
"You can't really look any further than Sebastien Bassong. He has been absolutely brilliant. It seems like it's only paper talk but you read that top clubs have an interest and I wouldn't blame them if they do because he has been absolutely outstanding. They got him in on a £1.5million transfer from Metz and he has been fantastic. He was expected to be a reserve when he came but he has played in almost every game and in every game he has been head and shoulders above the rest. Bassong by a mile has been our player of the season."
"I hope it's better than what we saw against Hull on Saturday because Newcastle started really flat and let Hull dominate the game. Against the big teams like Arsenal you can't afford to start like that or you'll find yourself two or three-nil down in the first half an hour and then it's game over. What [caretaker manager] Chris Hughton has said this week is that he's demanding more from his team, he's demanding that they go for the opposition a bit more so the crowd can feed off it at St. James' Park. While we're not optimistic we'll get three points, we'd at least like a performance where we start off well and attack the opposition, like the Man United game where we went 1-0 up. That would give the fans some encouragement because they've not had a lot of it.
"I think it has to stem from the pitch. The fans will back the team 100 per cent, every game, no matter how bad they are. There have been worse times than this don't forget, they got beat off the likes of Grimsby in the past at home and thrown away three-goal leads, and they have still been supported down the years. Now the fans are looking to the pitch to get a bit of spark and in turn they will give that back. Against Man United we went 1-0 up and the roof nearly came off. The fans look to the pitch for some inspiration and it's up to the players to deliver. The pressure is on their shoulders."Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 19 Mar 2009