Arsenal 3, Newcastle United 0

TICK-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.... boom. There is a ticking bomb under the Newcastle United hierarchy this morning and it is ready to explode.

TICK-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.... boom. There is a ticking bomb under the Newcastle United hierarchy this morning and it is ready to explode.

Most fans are on a short fuse following recent events and should the club today fail to land the two or three players Kevin Keegan has asked for, the anger which has followed the sale of James Milner to Aston Villa will suddenly ignite.

Fail to start communicating properly with those supporters and the suspicion, frustration and doubt about owner Mike Ashley’s intentions will combine to create a highly-combustible atmosphere at St James’s Park which could be avoided. Fail to successfully renegotiate club captain Michael Owen’s contract – the striker was finally offered a three-year extension over the weekend – before the end of the month and even manager Kevin Keegan’s patience could snap.

Emotions always run high at Newcastle United, but this is not a time to be dismissing them. Yes, United fans have a tendency to lurch from highs to lows with the speed of Gordon Brown’s collapse in popularity. But after 14 months in charge the present regime is facing a definitive moment.

Ashley appointed a board to run the club. He wants to enjoy himself and he has paid good money to do so. But for how much longer will he be able to sit among the fans at away games when some are starting to doubt whether a billionaire from “down south” is good for the club?

Indeed, will he start to question whether the men he appointed are doing the job properly when there is such a swell in opposition to him? Things ran smoothly under former chairman Chris Mort because he was the public link between Ashley and the fans, but his departure has created a vacuum which has not been adequately filled.

The news of Owen’s contract offer is welcome and, while the pay rise the club have supposedly offered is linked to appearances, goals and other incentives, it is a good offer. It is up to the player to sign it, but Owen will not be impressed by the club’s decision to leak the information in what appears to be an attempt to force his hand. Why now with just 24 hours of the transfer window remaining?

Most supporters could understand the sale of Milner if the club had replacements lined up.

But they cannot accept the sale of a popular, hard-working young player to a supposed rival for a top-eight finish this season if the money is not going to be reinvested.

Keegan has indicated he has been told it will be. The optimism of the manager is renowned, but we must hope, on this occasion, his optimism is justified. To be fair to the players, although this defeat by Arsenal was predictable – it was the third successive game in which the Magpies have been beaten 3-0 at the Emirates – they acquitted themselves well against a rampant Arsenal side with something to prove. Few teams in Europe could live with them in this sort of mood.

Certainly, the performances of the two Argentinian internationals, Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini, gave plenty of cause for encouragement and it should be emphasised the recruitment team of Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez deserve a large amount of credit for their capture.

Danny Guthrie also looks a promising central midfielder who will get better with experience and the equally youthful French defender Sebastien Bassong also did well when he came on as a substitute for the injured Jose Enrique.

But four new signings, when you consider the players who have left, is not enough and Newcastle’s squad is fragile to say the least.

Keegan says he has seven excellent outfield players to build a team around and another five or six maybes. It does not take a genius to work out he needs 10.

Had Shola Ameobi not got in the way of Owen – leading to the England man scuffing his shot wide when he should have cancelled out Robin van Persie’s penalty spot opener – things might have been different.

Things might also have been different if Charles N’Zogbia had not been harshly penalised for handball to lead to that spot kick, but you doubt it.

Arsenal were breathtaking at times and it could have been a heavier beating. In the end, the Gunners were content with a second from Van Persie, after a flick on by Emmanuel Eboue, and a well-worked third for Denilson after the home side had passed their way through the middle of the Newcastle defence.

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David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
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Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer