Rafael Benitez credits January loanee signings Martin Dubravka and Kenedy as pivotal to Newcastle's impressive turnaround
Rafael Benitez believes the arrival of loanee pair Martin Dubravka and Kenedy in January inspired Newcastle’s turnaround.
After ending 2017 on a run of nine defeats from 12 Premier League games, a change in form at the turn of the year has seen them climb to 10th in the table and 10 points clear of the relegation zone.
The Magpies have secured 15 points from a possible 21 ahead of Sunday’s match against Arsenal at St James’ Park, live on Sky Sports, and Benitez singled out the duo as being pivotal to an impressive run of results.
“When you are at the bottom of the table and then you start winning games in the way that we were and with the confidence that the team is playing at the moment… I think we are doing well and hopefully we can carry on,” Benitez said.
“Maybe in January when we bought Dubravka and Kenedy, they were giving us different things – competition in different positions.
“Everyone was trying even harder. I think that was a key factor.”
The former Real Madrid and Liverpool boss praised the togetherness and winning mentality of his side, who welcome Arsenal off the back of three wins on the bounce.
“The team spirit and mentality of this group is quite good,” he said. “You have to play for a win. The game is to compete and to win.
“You have to do what you have to do for winning and I am really happy with how well my my team is playing.
“The managers, we are trying to bring the best from our players.”
Having fielded an identical starting line-up in Newcastle’s last three outings, Benitez says he is happy to stick with his current starting XI until given reason not to.
“Sometimes you don’t need to change the team, because they are fit and they are doing well,” he added.
“At the moment, they are fine. We are really pleased with our players and if we continue winning, we will not change too many players.”
On-loan striker Islam Slimani is fit to feature against Arsenal after recovering from injury, but Benitez insists his players must try their hardest to give good cause for selection.
“We would like to do it [give Slimani games] but it depends on him,” he said.
“You don’t pick the players because you want to do it – you pick them because they train well or they do well.”