Heading into the World Cup break, Newcastle United sat third in the Premier League – seven points behind leaders Arsenal and two points behind Manchester City. The betting markets have City as odds-on favourites (at ~13/25), Arsenal as second favourites (at ~13/5), followed by Newcastle as very distant third favourites (at ~33/1). But what if the Magpies steal the shiny prize?
Full disclosure, I am an Arsenal fan (for my sins), so it pains me to write this – especially with my beloved Gunners currently leading the league. My Grey Swan of Newcastle topping the table at season’s end may (at least subconsciously) be an emotional hedge to counter my disappointment should Arsenal fall short. Beyond this slightly neurotic footy-fan mindset, though, I see a few other strong reasons for a black and white win.
Why Man City Will Fall Short
I address the elephant in the room first. Manchester City have won four out of the past five Premier League titles and have added the phenomenal Alf Inge Haaland, a potentially generational talent, to an already deadly attack. And Haaland started the season in incredible form, scoring 18 goals in his first 14 games.
Yet City are in transition this season, which has led to some odd results. A perfect example is the most recent game: a 2-1 loss at home to newly promoted Fulham. Drawing against an Aston Villa side struggling under then-manager Steven Gerrard also raised eyebrows and hinted at an underlying fragility.
The dazzling Haaland distracted from this inconsistency. However, the changes in the side from last season have been material. They sold two of their leading scorers, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling, to Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. They also lost Fernandinho and Oleksandr Zinchenko, two key players in recent title-winning seasons.
True, Haaland is far and away the league-leading scorer and has looked imperious at times. But his goal output slowed recently. Are teams learning how to play against him? Will his form slip further? Maintaining that blistering early-season performance will be a big ask. And critically, Haaland at his best has eased the transition for City. If he is less effective when the Premier League restarts in December, City could very easily struggle.
Why Arsenal Will Fall Short
The big challenge facing Arsenal is squad depth. The Gunners have, uncharacteristically, kept most of their key players fit so far this season. Unlike last season, for example, when important players such as Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney were injured for long spells, virtually all of Arsenal’s starting 11 have played most games so far.
But our reserves lack quality. That has forced the Gunners to rely on a core group of 13-14 players. That is unsustainable, as injuries are sure to bite eventually. True, Arsenal could strengthen the squad in the January transfer window, but funds are not unlimited, and new addition(s) may struggle to hit the ground running. The Gunners’ excellent early-season form belies a work-in-progress team – a longer-term project, with Champions League qualification the main goal this season.
So, failing a fit first team or standout transfers, I fear my team will not lift the trophy.
The Case for Newcastle
Newcastle Manager Eddie Howe took over the club roughly one year ago, when the Magpies were in the relegation zone. With a few good calls and some judicious spending, the team finished mid-table.
Howe’s team started this season slowly yet steadily, quietly picking up results along the way, gaining form, and climbing the table. They drew with Man City at home when Haaland was in his early pomp, beat Tottenham away, and defeated Chelsea in their most recent fixture. How has Howe done it? He improved the players he inherited while using new additions to raise overall team performance.
Leading scorer Callum Wilson has been with the club since 2020, and his form earned him a call-up to England’s World Cup squad. Close behind him in scoring goals is Miguel Almirón, with the club since 2019, who has been a revelation from midfield.
Another standout in midfield is Bruno Guimarães, acquired in January. He has slotted in seamlessly and significantly helped the team’s revival last season and at the beginning of this season.
Meanwhile, the club’s record signing, attacker Alexander Isak, has played very little due to injury. His return to fitness will surely be a big plus for the Magpies’ already laudable offensive performance.
The defence is also impressive. Using the goals conceded metric, Newcastle is tied with Arsenal for best defence in the Premier League, conceding only 11 goals in 15 games. Veteran Kieran Trippier was another addition in the most recent January transfer window. He has provided Champions League experience at the back and is a strong set-piece threat in attack. Central defender Sven Botman arrived last summer, as did goalkeeper Nick Pope, and both have made substantial contributions to the Magpies’ defensive solidity.
Dangerous in attack, stingy in defence – it is a solid, potentially title-winning, combination.
The January Transfer Window Could Be Critical
For Manchester City, adding more players to the mix while they are in transition seems like a recipe for trouble. They have a full squad of seasoned internationals already and must learn to make it work in 2023. Arsenal probably has limited funds, so a transformative signing (or signings) is possible but improbable.
Newcastle, however, have deep pockets so could make critical additions to the squad in the January transfer window. They made transformative signings in the two most recent transfer windows. They have the financial firepower and market acumen to do it again.
Newcastle’s approach to the transfer market has been astute, the result of measured and judicious squad-building. Moreover, since taking over as first team coach, Howe has adeptly managed the mix of existing talent and new, high-profile, big-money signings. Expect more of the same in 2023.
And, with this, Newcastle can build on their already impressive start to the season. Even though the bookies think it is a massive longshot, they are serious challengers for the Premier League title. With Man City in transition and Arsenal’s squad so thin, this Grey Swan says the black and white birds will be crowned 2022-2023 Premier League champions.
Richard Jones is a Macro Strategist for VDK Capital, a London-based venture capital firm. He has traded and invested in interest rate and FX market portfolios spanning three decades, both on the buy-side and sell-side.