A takeover bid for Newcastle United by a consortium backed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund has been withdrawn after weeks of waiting for the Premier League’s approval, the group said on Thursday.
The investment group of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and billionaire brothers, David and Simon Reuben, cited the long period since a deal was struck with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley in April and the impact of coronavirus for pulling out.
“With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the investment group said in a statement reported by Sky Sports.
“Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable.”
The statement added: “Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.”
The takeover bid had attracted condemnation from Amnesty International and the wife of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi over Saudi’s human rights record, putting pressure on the Premier League not to give it the green light in its owners’ and directors’ test.
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has told his players to stay at home during the Premier League’s coronavirus lockdown.
The Premier League announced on Friday that all matches would be postponed until April 3 over fears about the spread of the deadly pandemic.
Bruce said Newcastle had already drawn up a response to the coronavirus outbreak when the governing bodies acted on Friday after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea midfielder Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for the illness.
That will entail the players staying at home and working on their personal fitness programmes to stay in shape.
Bruce, whose side were due to face Sheffield United on Saturday, said: “We’ve set the personal programmes in place, they’re ready to go.
“I think that’s what the doctors of all the clubs are recommending. Up until yesterday, we thought we were fine to play this weekend, but when the news broke (about Arteta), it was obvious the situation had changed.
“Once we heard about that, and Leicester and now Chelsea, we knew things had moved on.
“We’ve been talking about what will happen if everything is suspended for two weeks, four weeks. The plan would be for the players to go away with their own individual programmes, to take them away from here, because we are on top of each other.
“There are 70 or 80 of us in quite a confined space. If one of them got infected when they were away from the training ground and then came back in, clearly that would be an issue. It’s so contagious, apparently.”
Arsenal hauled themselves back into contention to qualify for next season’s Champions League with a 4-0 win over Newcastle thanks to second-half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette.
Just a second league win for the Gunners under Mikel Arteta lifts Arsenal into 10th in the Premier League, but just six points adrift of Tottenham in fifth.
Manchester City’s two-season ban from European competition means fifth will be enough to secure a Champions League place unless the English champions succeed in appealing that sanction to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Arteta, who left City to take his first senior managerial role at the Emirates in December, could be the beneficiary of his former employers’ punishment.
And there was plenty of encouragement for the Spaniard in Arsenal’s second-half performance after an all too familiar subdued first 45 minutes.
Second-placed Leicester are now 10 points behind Liverpool, who face Sheffield United at Anfield on Thursday.
Newcastle suffered a third successive league defeat for the first time since October 2018 and boss Steve Bruce and his players were loudly booed by the frustrated locals.
Jamie Vardy was absent again after Leicester’s 17-goal leading scorer missed the win at West Ham following the birth of his baby daughter.
But Ben Chilwell, Caglar Soyuncu, Ricardo Pereira, Youri Tielemans, Maddison and Wilfred Ndidi all returned after being rested at West Ham.
Leicester’s reinforced line-up were quickly on the front foot and Jonny Evans forced a good save from Martin Dubravka with a towering header in the opening moments.
Dubravka had to get down well again to parry a low drive from Tielemens.
Despite Leicester’s early pressure, Newcastle should have taken the lead when Joelinton ran onto Jonjo Shelvey’s defense-splitting pass.
Joelinton’s initial shot was saved by Kasper Schmeichel and from the rebound, the out-of-form striker somehow managed to head completely off target with the goal at his mercy.
But Leicester were dominating so confidently that they held 77 percent of the possession before taking the lead in the 36th minute.
Jeered by his old club’s fans whenever he touched the ball, Perez had the perfect response.
It was a gift of a goal as Newcastle’s Florian Lejeune played a suicidal pass across his own area and Perez pounced, cutting back inside for a cool low finish that he celebrated by sticking his fingers in his ears.
The opprobrium of the home fans was turned on their own players three minutes later as Rodgers’ men doubled their advantage.
Once again, the hapless Lejeune was guilty of surrendering possession far too easily and this time Maddison was the beneficiary as he seized control 20 yards out and rifled a superb strike into the top corner of Dubravka’s net.
Kelechi Iheanacho almost made it three from Perez’s cross, but Dubravka just clawed his shot out before it crossed the line.
Adding to Bruce’s miserable start to the new year, Newcastle lost Jetro Willems and Javier Manquillo to injuries before the interval.
Having gambled by making his third and final change at half-time, Bruce watched aghast as Fabian Schar was injured just seconds after the restart, leaving Newcastle down to 10 men for the rest of the match.
With a numerical advantage to go with their two-goal lead, Leicester effectively used the second half as a practice session.
Dubravka kept the score down with saves from Perez and Iheanacho, but Choudhury capped an imperious Leicester display in the 87th minute.
Picked out on the edge of the area, Choudhury curled a brilliant strike into the top corner for his first professional goal.
Anthony Martial’s double and a Mason Greenwood rocket fired Manchester United to a 4-1 win against Newcastle that lifted the mood at Old Trafford after their recent struggles.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side slumped to an embarrassing 2-0 defeat at lowly Watford last weekend to raise fresh questions about the United manager’s ability to inspire his players.
When Matty Longstaff put Newcastle ahead in the first half on Thursday, Solskjaer’s critics were sharpening their knives again.
But Martial rode to Solskjaer’s rescue with the equaliser and Greenwood’s thunderbolt put United ahead before Marcus Rashford rounded off a first half blitz.
Martial netted again after the interval as United ended a two-match winless run in the Premier League and moved into seventh place, just four points behind fourth placed Chelsea in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
United’s failure to match the levels they showed in their recent win at champions Manchester City during lacklustre efforts against Watford and Everton had put Solskjaer’s future in the spotlight again.
The Norwegian insisted he retains the support of United owners the Glazer family, but he could hardly afford another setback against mid-table opponents like Newcastle.
Scott McTominay tried too hard to set the tone for United when he crunched into a studs-high tackle on Sean Longstaff that earned him the fastest Premier League booking of the season after just 40 seconds.
That was part of a spluttering start from United and Dwight Gayle should have put Newcastle ahead from Joelinton’s pass, but the striker blazed high into the Stretford End.
It was a warning that Solskjaer’s men failed to heed as Newcastle took the lead in the 17th minute.
Matty Longstaff had scored the winner against United on his Premier League debut in October.
The 19-year-old midfielder was making just his third appearance since that dream debut at St James’ Park and this was his first goal since.
Stepping past Luke Shaw, he produced a fine low finish after Joelinton showed impressive composure to tee up Longstaff inside the penalty area.
Now without a clean-sheet in 14 league games, United needed a quick response to lift the gloom and Martial got a helping hand as he delivered the equaliser in the 24th minute.
Andreas Pereira’s neat lay-off from Shaw’s pass gave Martial a sight of goal and French striker’s low shot squirmed under a weak attempted save from Martin Dubravka at his near post.
Newcastle had contributed to their own downfall on that occasion and Greenwood punished more sloppy defending to put United in front in the 36th minute.
Greenwood, making just his third Premier League start, has been one of the few bright spots in a frustrating season.
The 18-year-old showcased his vast potential when he seized on Fabian Schar’s wayward pass and crashed a sublime strike past Dubravka from 20 yards for his eighth goal of the season.
United had all the momentum and increased their lead in the 41st minute, with Rashford climbing highest to power a header into the roof of the net from Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s pin-point cross despite Newcastle appeals for a foul in the build-up.
Following Rashford’s 15th club goal this season, Solskjaer sent on Pogba at half-time for his second appearance since returning from a lengthy ankle injury.
It was Pogba’s compatriot Martial who put the result beyond doubt in the 51st minute.
Sean Longstaff’s woeful attempted back-pass from near the halfway line was intercepted by Martial and he raced into the area before clipping his shot over Dubravka.
Martial was inches away from a hat-trick when his long-range blast hit the post.
Manchester City’s Premier League title hopes faltered once more as the champions twice blew a lead to draw 2-2 at Newcastle on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola’s men were frustrated for long spells after Jetro Willems quickly cancelled out Raheem Sterling’s first-half opener, but seemed to have found the moment of magic they needed thanks to Kevin De Bruyne’s sensational strike eight minutes from time.
However, City’s defensive flaws were soon exposed once more as Jonjo Shelvey swept home a well-worked free-kick six minutes later.
City have now dropped points in five of their 14 league games this season and could end the day 11 points behind leaders Liverpool.
Guardiola was without Sergio Aguero who has been ruled out for a couple of weeks by a thigh muscle injury and City missed his predatory instincts as they failed to make nearly 80 percent possession count.
Sterling has usurped Aguero so far this season as City’s major source of goals and was clinical 22 minutes in after a lovely backheel from David Silva set the England international up for his 15th goal of the season.
However, the lead lasted just three minutes as the normally goal-shy Magpies produced their own moment of quality when Miguel Almiron teed up Willems to slot past Ederson into the far corner.
When City lost on their last visit to St James’ Park back in January the title seemed lost, only for a 14-game winning streak to end the campaign to pip Liverpool to the post.
The Reds’ relentless form at the top of the table meant City started the day nine points behind and with precious little margin for error even before November is out.
But the sharpness and accuracy of passing that has characterised City’s two title triumphs under Guardiola was lacking as the visitors’ struggled to unlock the mass ranks of the Newcastle defence.
City finally began to work Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal in the final quarter as De Bruyne’s shot from a narrow-angle was turned away before Gabriel Jesus had a huge chance to make his mark in Aguero’s absence.
The Brazilian was played clean through on goal by Silva but shot straight at Dubravka before De Bruyne’s follow-up effort was blocked.
Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden were called upon from the bench to make an impact in the final 20 minutes and with his first touch, Bernardo dragged wide another glorious chance on his normally trusty left foot.
De Bruyne was the one constant threat for City and looked to have won the game when he chested down a looping clearance before smashing the ball in off the underside of the bar.
Newcastle had barely mustered a single attack in the second half, but after Fernandinho conceded a needless foul and was lucky to avoid seeing a second yellow card, Christian Atsu picked out Shelvey unmarked on the edge of the box to find the bottom corner.
City still had one more chance to take all three points in stoppage time when De Bruyne picked out Sterling, but his shot lacked the power to beat Dubravka and with that opportunity may have gone their chances of a third title in a row.
Chelsea climbed to third in the Premier League as Marcos Alonso clinched a 1-0 win that silenced the Newcastle fans who jeered the Spanish defender at Stamford Bridge.
Alonso’s blistering strike ended Newcastle’s stubborn resistance with 17 minutes left and provided the perfect riposte to the taunts from the stands.
The Chelsea left-back spent the second half of the 2013-14 season on loan at Newcastle’s arch-rivals Sunderland and played in a derby win at St James’ Park.
The Magpies supporters clearly hadn’t forgotten as they booed him throughout Saturday’s match.
But Alonso’s first goal since April gave him the last laugh as Chelsea made it five successive victories in all competitions.
After winning just two of their opening eight games under Frank Lampard, the Blues are beginning to find their stride.
The mature way Lampard’s young side kept probing and found a way to beat obdurate Newcastle bodes well for the future.
And for only the second time in Lampard’s 13 games in charge, Chelsea kept a clean sheet as the Blues boss celebrated just his second home league.
While a title challenge is likely to be beyond Chelsea, they look well equipped to challenge for a top-four finish.
Newcastle have now won just one of their last 26 league visits to Chelsea after a defeat that punctured the momentum from their 1-0 win against Manchester United before the international break.
Fikayo Tomori, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham all featured for Chelsea, making it five English players in their starting line-up in the Premier League for the first time since February 2013.
Hudson-Odoi led the charge of Chelsea’s homegrown youngsters when he cleverly worked space for a cross that Willian headed wide.
Mount was next to contribute when the midfielder collected Hudson-Odoi’s pass and spun for a fierce shot that was pushed away by Martin Dubravka.
Alonso earned a yellow card for a crunching challenge on DeAndre Yedlin, prompting a barrage of abuse from the Newcastle supporters crammed into one corner of the Shed End.
Willian drilled wide from a tight angle as Chelsea monopolised possession without delivering the knockout blow.
Chelsea suffered a blow when Barkley limped off with a leg injury just before half-time.
But Lampard’s team continued to push Newcastle back after the interval and came close to taking the lead through Abraham.
With nine goals already this term, Abraham was inches away from getting into double figures when his header from Willian’s corner crashed against the bar.
Frustrated by Chelsea’s failure to make the breakthrough, Lampard sent on Christian Pulisic for Mount just after the hour.
Abraham was narrowly off-target with a towering header from Chelsea’s eighth corner.
Hudson-Odoi was a constant menace with his mesmerising bursts and when his cross found Pulisic, the United States winger was denied by Dubravka’s fine scrambling save.
Dubravka kept out Willian’s near-post drive as Chelsea poured forward.
The pressure finally told in the 73rd minute when Hudson-Odoi teed up Alonso, unmarked inside the Newcastle area, for a powerful effort that flashed under Dubravka’s hand into the far corner.
It took a superb block from Yedlin to stop Abraham increasing the lead, while Ciaran Clark looped a header just over as Newcastle nearly snatched a draw that would have been cruel on Chelsea.
Leicester powered into third place in the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of 10-man Newcastle that piled pressure on Magpies boss Steve Bruce on Sunday.
Brendan Rodgers’ side maintained their impressive start to the season as they romped to a fourth win in their last five league games.
Ricardo Pereira opened the scoring in the first half before Newcastle’s Isaac Hayden was sent off for a dangerous tackle.
Leicester ran riot in the second half as Jamie Vardy struck either side of Paul Dummett’s own goal.
Wilfred Ndidi rounded off Leicester’s biggest league win since Rodgers arrived from Celtic to replace Claude Puel in February, leaving them just two points behind second placed Manchester City.
Rodgers’ appointment has proved an inspired move and Leicester look capable of challenging for a top four finish, especially given the inconsistent form of Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea.
Newcastle were the only team to win a league game at the King Power Stadium since Rodgers took charge.
But that success was during Rafael Benitez’s reign last season and they are a far less obdurate side under Bruce.
After this woeful display, Newcastle sit second bottom of the table and have won only once in their first seven league matches.
Mike Ashley’s decision to hire Bruce from Sheffield Wednesday was greeted with disdain by Newcastle fans and the under-fire 58-year-old already appears to be fighting to save his job.
With Ashley still being linked with a deal to sell Newcastle, Bruce could be gone before a regime change or very soon after unless results improve quickly.
James Maddison was absent for Leicester because of an ankle injury, with the midfielder’s place going to Dennis Praet in the only change from last week’s 2-1 win over Tottenham.
Even without Maddison, Leicester were quickly into their stride as former Newcastle winger Ayoze Perez tested Magpies keeper Martin Dubravka.
Newcastle could have been ahead against the run of play when Hayden drilled a low cross towards Yoshinori Muto, but the Japanese forward scuffed woefully wide.
Rodgers’ team made the most of that escape to take the lead in the 16th minute.
Newcastle in disarray
Portugal right-back Pereira has earned a reputation for lung-bursting surges that can unhinge opposing defences and once again he was too hot for Newcastle to handle.
Playing a one-two with Perez, Pereira surged towards the Newcastle area unchecked by the visitors’ defence before firing a fine finish into the bottom corner for his second goal in his last two games.
As rain lashed down, Bruce already cut a bedraggled figure on the touchline.
But Bruce’s day got even worse in the 43rd minute when Hayden was sent off for a reckless studs-up lunge on Praet that left the Leicester midfielder crumpled on the turf.
Leicester had already beaten Newcastle on penalties in the League Cup this season and Rodgers’ side were on course for a far more convincing success by the 54th minute.
Praet picked out Harvey Barnes and cushioned a first-time pass over the top into the path of Vardy, whose low shot evaded Dubravka’s weak attempt to save at his near post.
Vardy’s fourth goal of the season was followed by Leicester’s third of the day three minutes later.
Praet advanced down the right and his shot was turned into his own net by Newcastle defender Dummett.
With Newcastle in disarray, Vardy netted again after 64 minutes when he met Marc Albrighton’s cross with a clinical header at the far post.
Leicester showed no mercy to Bruce and Ndidi turned swiftly to fire home in the 90th minute.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah ensured Liverpool maintained their 100 per cent start to the Premier League season by coming from behind to beat Newcastle 3-1 at Anfield on Saturday.
The European champions have a history of starting slowly in early kick-offs under Jurgen Klopp and only arose from their slumber after the Magpies took a shock lead through Jetro Willems on seven minutes.
Mane turned the tide before half-time with a sumptuous finish into the top corner before profiting from an error by Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka for his second.
Dubravka redeemed himself after the break with a string of fine saves to keep the final score down but was helpless when Salah finished coolly from Roberto Firmino’s cute backheel.
Klopp’s men open up a five-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the table, but the champions can cut that gap back to two with victory at Norwich later on Saturday.
Newcastle sprung a huge surprise by claiming their only win of the season so far at Tottenham three weeks ago. They followed the same script as they frustrated the hosts in the early stages before stunning Anfield by going in front.
Willems turned inside Trent Alexander-Arnold before drilling a fierce shot past the helpless Adrian.
Liverpool trailed at home for the first time since March but quickly rallied to record a 14th straight Premier League victory.
Mane was furious with Salah after being substituted in a 3-0 win away to Burnley before the international break, accusing the Egyptian of being too greedy in his eye for goal.
But it is the Senegalese who has more goals so far this season and he arrowed into the far corner from Andy Robertson’s pass to get Liverpool back on level terms.
Firmino had been rested from the start after his travels to the United States with Brazil during the international break, but he was soon called into the action as Divock Origi limped off injured.
And Firmino made an instant impact as his pass towards Mane was spilled by Dubravka for the Liverpool number 10 to roll into an empty net.
Liverpool had only one scare once they were in front as Emil Krafth blasted over a great chance to bring Newcastle level again at the back post.
However, it was only a matter of time before the Reds made the game safe as Dubravka saved brilliantly from Robertson and twice denied the excellent Firmino, who was named man-of-the-match despite only coming on eight minutes before half-time.
The Brazilian bagged another assist when his flick freed Salah, who took his time before leaving Dubravka grounded and placing the ball into the far corner.
Mane was denied his hat-trick and Firmino a triple of assists by the offside flag, but Liverpool cruised through the final stages with one eye already on the start of their defence of the Champions League away to Napoli on Tuesday.
Tottenham were involved in more VAR controversy as this time Mauricio Pochettino’s men were denied a late penalty and Newcastle held on for a shock 1-0 win away to the Champions League finalists on Sunday.
Joelinton’s first goal for the Magpies gave Steve Bruce’s men a first-half lead to defend and they did so manfully to pick up their first points of the season.
Spurs were saved by VAR to claim a fortunate 2-2 draw away to Manchester City last weekend as the champions had a late goal ruled out, just as they did in a dramatic Champions League quarter-final between the pair last season.
However, it was Tottenham’s turn to feel aggrieved as Harry Kane was felled by Jamaal Lascelles inside the area, but VAR did not overturn Mike Dean’s initial decision to wave play on.
Newcastle had suffered a terrible start to the season with defeats by Arsenal and Norwich, the latter of which forced Bruce to cancel a day off for his players for extra training.
That work clearly paid off as a disciplined and dogged Newcastle frustrated a Spurs side lacking in invention without Christian Eriksen — who was again left on the bench with his future at the club in question.
Tottenham dominated possession early on as expected, but it was Hugo Lloris who was forced to make the first significant save as the French number one acrobatically tipped over Sean Longstaff’s rising drive.
Newcastle fans continued to voice their displeasure with Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club for a lack of investment that contributed to Rafael Benitez not extending his contract to remain in charge this season.
But there was finally some reward for the club-record £40 million ($49 million) splashed on Joelinton as the Brazilian striker pounced on some awful defending from Davinson Sanchez to fired Newcastle in front on 27 minutes.
Even going behind could not rouse Spurs into a response.
Son Heung-min was making his first appearance of the season after serving a suspension hanging over from a red card last season and the South Korea was far from his brilliant best.
Son did at least force Martin Dubravka into a save from a narrow angle and Lucas Moura should have done better when the Slovakian flapped at a Kane cross with the last action of the first half.
Spurs continued to probe without much cutting edge after the break and Eriksen was eventually called for, along with Giovani Lo Celso for his home debut just after the hour mark.
Not ‘clear and obvious’
Eriksen’s contract expires at the end of the season, meaning Tottenham will have to sell him before the transfer window closes across Europe on September 2 or run the risk he leaves the club for free next summer.
Just like on the opening day of the season when the Dane helped overturn a surprise 1-0 deficit against Aston Villa, Eriksen’s introduction sparked Spurs into life.
Kane should have had a chance to level from the spot when he was wiped out by Lascelles as the defender stumbled in the box.
Referee Dean turned down the appeals and the decision was not overturned after a VAR review as it was deemed not a “clear and obvious error”.
However, the Premier League’s high bar to not overturn referees’ original decisions will be scrutinised as it seemed a certain penalty.
Moments later, Lucas spurned the hosts’ best opening of the game by firing over Moussa Sissoko’s low cross and Newcastle saw off a bombardment during six minutes of stoppage time for a vital victory.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired Arsenal to a 1-0 win at Newcastle in their Premier League opener on Sunday, providing hope of an improved run this season for Unai Emery’s side.
The Gunners finished last season in turmoil after blowing their bid for a top-four place with a disastrous spell in the final weeks.
Adding to Emery’s woes, Arsenal were crushed by Chelsea in the Europa League final to shatter their dreams of Champions League qualification.
But Arsenal have enjoyed a profitable close-season, with a host of new signings raising morale around the Emirates Stadium.
And Aubameyang gave Arsenal fans renewed belief they can get back in the top four this term with a typically predatory second-half finish to give the north Londoners a winning start.
Arsenal had a wretched away record last season, keeping just one clean sheet on their travels, so taking three points without conceding was the perfect way to turn over a new leaf.
Their often-criticised defence held firm, with centre-backs Calum Chambers and Sokratis keeping Newcastle at bay.
Aubameyang’s strike ruined Newcastle manager Steve Bruce’s first match in charge of the club he supported as a boy.
Bruce left second-tier Sheffield Wednesday to join Newcastle in the close-season following the departure of fan favourite Rafael Benitez, who had grown tired of a lack of backing from controversial owner Mike Ashley.
Bruce’s appointment was hardly greeted with widespread joy on Tyneside and the season started with Newcastle fans staging a protest against Ashley in the streets and then boycotting the match in large enough numbers to leave numerous empty seats around St James’ Park.
Emery’s decision to leave new signings David Luiz, Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe on the bench was rewarded by a determined, if only sporadically cohesive, display from his team.
There were starts for 19-year-old academy graduates Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock, but Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac were absent after two men were arrested following a fresh incident after the pair were the victims of an attempted car-jacking in July.
Joelinton made his first Newcastle start after his club-record £40 million switch from Hoffenheim and the Brazilian striker needed to impress to lift the gloomy mood on a rainy day in the north-east.
He had his first sights of goal when he flicked a header just wide from Matt Ritchie’s cross and then blasted straight at Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno.
Jonjo Shelvey went even closer for Newcastle as the midfielder hit the outside of a post with a stinging strike.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan squandered a golden chance to give Arsenal the lead, the unmarked midfielder firing wildly over the bar from 10 yards.
After a quiet start, Arsenal star Aubameyang, the joint top-scorer in the Premier League last season, sprang to life when he tested Martin Dubravka with a powerful strike after superbly controlling Mkhitaryan’s long pass.
It was a warning that Newcastle failed to heed as Aubameyang put Arsenal ahead in the 58th minute.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the provider, making a timely interception of Paul Dummett’s under-hit pass to Jetro Willems and surging away from inside his own half.
Unfurling a pin-point pass that curled over the back-tracking Newcastle defence, Maitland-Niles found Aubameyang in space and the Gabon striker took a touch before clipping his cool finish past Dubravka.
Ivory Coast winger Pepe, Arsenal’s £72 million club-record signing, and Spanish midfielder Ceballos, on loan from Real Madrid, came off the bench for the last 20 minutes.
The new boys didn’t make much of an impact as Arsenal’s much-maligned defence took the plaudits.
“We have worked hard to extend Rafa’s contract over a significant period of time, however, it has not been – and will not be – possible to reach an agreement with Rafa and his representatives.”
Despite failing to keep Newcastle in the top flight shortly after taking over in March 2016, Benitez earned hero status on Tyneside as he led Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. He then comfortably secured survival by finishing 10th and 13th in the last two seasons.
However, the Spaniard did not hide his displeasure at the lack of backing he was afforded by Ashley and was believed to be seeking assurances over the budget he would have to work with before committing his future to the club.
“I have been trying to win titles everywhere, in different countries, and we have to have a team that can compete,” the former Liverpool, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager told Sky Sports in April.
“The city, the club, everyone in Newcastle is supporting the team so it’s massive. I’m not saying £200m but doing a little bit more, doing the right things, we can compete against the teams that are now maybe between seventh and 12th. But we have to do things right.”
Benitez, who won the Champions League when in charge of Liverpool in 2005, has been reportedly offered a contract worth £12 million-a-year at Chinese club Dalian Yifang.
British retail tycoon Ashley bought Newcastle in 2007, but has been a deeply unpopular figure among fans, largely due to a lack of investment in the playing squad that has seen the club relegated twice during his reign in charge.
The signing of Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United for £20 million in January finally broke a transfer record that had stood since Michael Owen’s arrival at St James’ Park from Real Madrid in 2005.
Last month representatives of Dubai-based Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a relative of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour, said they had “agreed terms” with Ashley for a potential takeover of the club.