Longstaff in the number 10 could change Newcastle's season
(Photo by Marc Atkins via Getty Images)

Sean Longstaff earned himself a man of the match performance in Newcastle United's FA Cup victory over Oxford United last Tuesday night, having scored the opener and put in an all-round strong performance at the Kassam Stadium.

The Magpies travel to the Emirates Stadium this Sunday to take on an Arsenal side who have certainly disappointed so far in the Premier League this season.

Steve Bruce has kept his promise go playing his strongest possible side in the FA Cup this campaign so after a decent showing from Longstaff in their latest cup game, should he keep his place on Sunday afternoon, and if so, should he retain his position as a number ten?

Sean Longstaff's record

The midfielder certainly has an eye for goal, and even before making his Premier League debut last season showed that he was more than capable of finding the back of the net with his nine goals in 45 appearances on loan at Blackpool - not a bad return for a player who was in a holding role in the middle of the park.

Despite his impressive spell at Bloomfield Road, he hasn't quite hit those levels whilst playing for the Newcastle first team with only three senior goals scored, the first of which came in the FA Cup last season as Rafa Benitez's side defeated Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park in a third-round replay.

He would then go on to score his first top-flight goal in a 2-0 home victory over Burnley in February 2019.

It could be argued that injury issues at St James' Park turned into a blessing as Longstaff was suddenly promoted from the under-23 side and made an instant impression on the Geordie faithful.

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Number ten this season

Newcastle have not always played with a number ten this season, however, it has been something more prominent in recent weeks. At the start of the 2019/20 season, Bruce was ultimately forced to keep the same system that worked so well under Benitez. 

However, the team had a slow start and despite keeping the wing-back system for their opening two games against Arsenal and Norwich City they struggled to work well as a team - to Bruce's credit he managed to sort this out on matchday three as his side shocked Tottenham Hotspur away from home.

Barring the shambolic showing at Leicester City in September, Newcastle have stuck to their wing-back system which has proven to be largely effective.

Despite five-at-the-back always being on show, the formation has varied in the attacking areas of the pitch with several systems brought into play.

For those previously mentioned matches against Arsenal and Norwich, it appeared that a flat midfield three was being played, however, this soon changed to a front three as Allan Saint-Maximin made his first start for the club in a wide area.

Injuries have played their part in the change in formation under Bruce and with Joelinton being the only available out-and-out striker in recent weeks, this attacking trio seems the most obvious choice.

Interestingly when more striking options were available, Newcastle reverted to a front two with a number ten type player in behind them and this appeared to bring the best out of one man in particular, Miguel Almiron.

After a somewhat frustrating start to life on Tyneside, the Paraguayan then went on a scoring run once moved into his preferred position as he finally broke his duck against Crystal Palace in December.

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Options for Steve Bruce

Looking at the line-up against Oxford United, Almiron played as one of two strikers alongside Joelinton and it was Longstaff in behind the two South American's.

Ahead of Sunday's trip to London, the Magpies could welcome back the likes of Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto to the squad which could then allow Almiron to slot back into the number ten role.

But after such a strong showing last time out, would that be the right call from Bruce to either move Longstaff back into a holding midfield role or completely out of the starting line-up?

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