NEWCASTLE: Alexander Isak and Joe Willock have handed Newcastle United a huge boost ahead of their trip to Premier League title challengers Arsenal.
The Magpies head to the Emirates Stadium in the late kick-off on Saturday hoping to net their first win at the venue for more than a decade. You have to go back to 2010, for an Andy Carroll header in a 1-0 smash-and-grab to find the last time Newcastle left the red half of North London with three points.
Coach Eddie Howe has confirmed his injury-ravaged squad will be boosted by the return of top-scorer Isak and former Gunners’ midfielder Willock, who has barely kicked a ball for Newcastle in the last 10 months.
“They’ve trained this week, it’s been good to see them back on the grass,” said Howe.
“It’s been a long time for Joe but he’s a huge player for us. It’s been great to see him back among the group, he’s a very popular member of the squad. Really pleased for him.
“He was battling so hard to come back and then he had a couple of setbacks along the way, they’re difficult moments because a player just wants to play, be fit and express themselves in a positive way.
“Joe has had that limitation placed upon him with his body and it’s been very difficult for him. I think he has handled himself really well. I think we’ve seen him mature in the last few months where he’s had to show a different side of his character to come through this period and I think as long as he comes back full pelt, we’ll see a better Joe Willock for that experience.”
On Isak, Howe says he will be careful, especially with the player repeatedly missing so much football this campaign due to a groin problem.
“With Alex again, a really important player, he’s trained well so we’re happy with both players. We’ll have to wait and see, we’ve got one more training session but I’ve been pleased with their progress.
“We’ll only play him if we feel he is fit to play. We won’t take any risks. We’re in the hands, really, of Alex and the medical team and we’ll make the right decision for both the short and long term.
“I hope the best is yet to come (from Isak). It’s a difficult one. People will talk about his injuries but he’s still contributed massively. He’s an incredible player, there’s nobody else like him in the Premier League in my opinion. He has talents that can transform our team and I’d love to see him stay fit and get the goals he’d love to score for us.”
Meanwhile, Howe was asked about the situation in relation to the club’s soon-to-depart sporting director, Dan Ashworth.
This week, newly rubber-stamped Manchester United shareholder Sir Jim Ratcliffe described any talk of Newcastle not allowing Ashworth to switch to Old Trafford in a timely manner as “silly” and batted away suggestions he would sanction the Red Devils paying a huge fee to cut short any waiting period.
Ashworth was this week placed on gardening leave by the Magpies after an official approach by Manchester United. However, it is understood that period of leave extends to 2026, as well as his contract containing a substantial compensation fee. Newcastle could be tempted to cut that short, if Ratcliffe coughs up yet more cash to free Ashworth up — although, that is very much at the Magpies’ discretion.
When asked if the Ashworth talk has been unsettling or disruptive this week, Howe said: “The day-to-day running of the football club, not at all. It’s something that has happened away from the players and training ground. It’s been business as usual for us. A normal week.
“Certainly the events this week have given that certainty. I said in my press conference last week is what we needed as a football club. We’ve got that now and look forward to the future.”
When asked about Ratcliffe’s comments on Newcastle’s demands being “silly” and “absurd,” Howe responded: “I don’t think I can respond to that. I don’t think that’s for me. I’m not involved in those discussions and I’ll stay well away.
“In these situations it’s about Newcastle from our perspective. But that is for other people to make those decisions, I’m not involved in that in any way, shape or form. I’m preparing the team to play Arsenal.”
Newcastle’s move to recruit Ashworth’s successor is already underway, with talk of the likes of Monaco’s Paul Mitchell in the frame.
Howe does not expect to be consulted on the process, even if he does have a clear opinion about what should happen next.
He said: “I don’t think I’ll be involved in the decision-making process but I think we will have discussions on the role and how I see that. But again I don’t think that will be definitive, it’ll be the club’s decision and rightly so. But of course it won’t just be my opinion that they will listen to, they’ll be listening to lots of different opinions from lots of different people.
“Hopefully at the end we just come to the right solution for the football club because hopefully the next person that comes in will be at the club for many years and will be able to take the club in the direction everyone wants it to.”