Monday’s game at the Etihad was always going to be a tough one. Even under the best circumstances, Newcastle were likely to lose. But those long odds only underscored the need for the Magpies to be fully prepared at kickoff, and without Yohan Cabaye in the team, Newcastle were nowhere near their best.
Easy Monday, reports broke that Arsenal had made a Sunday bid for the French international, and while their initial inquiries were said to have been rebuffed, rumors held the Gunners would make another approach. Cabaye being left out of Newcastle’s game day 18 ignited intensified speculation.
After today’s match, a 4-0 loss to Manchester City, Pardew not only confirmed Arsenal’s bid but the effect it had on him, telling the press the offer was “below our valuation, for sure,” adding “It’s pretty obvious I’m upset about [the situation].”
“I didn’t see why [Arsenal] couldn’t give us the respect and honor of giving us till Tuesday morning,” Pardew said, adding it would have been “difficult (for Cabaye) to play in a game of [Monday’s] magnitude” after learning of the bid.
Pardew added that Newcastle did not tell the player of the bid; rather, Cabaye was informed by another source.
“We’ve prepared with the lad for three days,” Pardew continued. “I don’t think the result would’ve been the same if he had played.”
Cabaye’s dominance of the post-match questionning after a lopsided loss speaks to the intensity of the situation, though omitting him from the team had already sparked that controversy. When somebody as important as Cabaye is left out of an XI, it will prompt questions under normal circumstances. That the decision came after reports Arsenal had tabled a bid sent Newcastle’s world into a frenzy.
It’s not difficult to imagine the effect this has on a team. The magnitude, however, is more debatable. When he’s at his best, Cabaye’s capable of carrying Newcastle toward the top of the table, as he did two years ago when the Magpies competed for Champions League. Even without the help he received that season, the 27-year-old can be the best player on a Europa League-caliber team, somebody who can serve as the focal point of your team.
Without him, Newcastle will have to find a new focus. As was evident at the Etihad, that’s easier said than done. Moussa Sissoko and Cheick Tiote need somebody to serve as a link. Papiss Cissé dropping to pick up the ball isn’t a solution. Yoan Gouffran in the middle didn’t work, and Hatem Ben Afra’s best in spurts, not as a tempo-setter.
And when you remove him from the team? On short notice? After preparing for City with him? That will cause uncertainty, if not outright doubt.
That’s why this Cabaye situation is so unsettling. Like most teams, Newcastle don’t have somebody who can slot right in and replace what Cabaye provides in the middle. And his teammates know that.
Given how scarce players like Cabaye are at clubs from which the Magpies could buy, there are no guarantees they’ll be able to replace him. Then again, if Newcastle have found a Cabaye once, we shouldn’t discount their ability to do so once more.