Rafa Benitez issues challenge to his Newcastle players
Rafael Benitez has called on his Newcastle players to deliver the same performance they did against Manchester United to see off Arsenal and ease themselves past the 40-point mark.
On February 11, the Magpies ignited their Premier League survival bid when Matt Ritchie’s goal secured a 1-0 victory over United at St James’ Park, and they have barely looked back since.
Last Saturday’s 2-1 win at Leicester took them into 10th place on 38 points, 10 above the drop zone and just two shy of Benitez’s target for the campaign, and the manager is looking for more of the same when the Gunners arrive on Tyneside on Sunday fresh from booking their place in the last four of the Europa League.
He said: “I would like to see a game like against Southampton where you score an early goal. But they are a top side with so many top players that you cannot think that just a high tempo at the beginning and they will suffer.
“They will suffer, but still they have so much quality that in the last minutes, they can score a winning goal, so we have to approach the game in the same way that we did against Manchester United, against Southampton or the last games, the mentality of the team, the intensity of the game, but from the first minute until the last minute.”
Newcastle have lost only three of their last 14 league games, two of them to leaders Manchester City and the other to Champions League semi-finalists Liverpool, and are bidding for a fourth successive top flight win for the first time since November 2014.
However, Benitez does not want his players to relax with the safety line in sight.
He said: “In the last games, we have done well even under pressure. The team has been playing in the way that we want to play, we have had chances and we have been quite strong.”
Arsenal have won the last 10 encounters between the sides and are unbeaten in the last 12, although the first game in that sequence will long be remembered on Gallowgate.
The Gunners led 4-0 after just 26 minutes at St James’ in February 2011, only for Newcastle to hit back and snatch a 4-4 draw courtesy of the late Cheick Tiote’s stunning equaliser.
Benitez said: “The game is a great example, it’s so positive. It means the spirit of the team has to be good, for sure.”