Rolando Aarons scored a goal and an assist in Newcastle United's 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace last weekend. It was a fine home debut for the 18 year-old, who has Tyneside buzzing with the possibility that a legitimate young superstar could very well be forming right in front of the Geordie faithful. He's got a long way to go to achieve that status, but he's certainly a unique player from Newcastle's perspective, and that could be enough for now.
Newcastle United midfielders have been whipping balls at Mike Williamson's head since Rolando Aarons was 14 years old, hoping against hope that the tall defender would find the back of the net. They were collectively unsuccessful until last Saturday, when Aarons himself set Williamson up for his first-ever goal in a Newcastle United shirt.
Technically, it wasn't a cross. Opta classified it as a shot, which seems to correctly judge Aarons' intent on the play. Whatever it was, it was a chance generated and subsequently finished. In 23 minutes, Rolando Aarons took 5 of Newcastle United's 17 shots.
One of those, of course, was the goal he scored just 6 minutes after taking the pitch. It was another rarity for Newcastle; a headed goal from a corner. It wasn't too long ago that the Toon went through a ridiculous drought scoring from corners, taking 386 of them in a row without scoring. The number of goals scored since that streak was broken last November can be counted on one hand, so once again the young Mr. Rolando Aarons belongs to a unique club.
What makes this significant is not only that Aarons is filling a role not filled at Newcastle for some time, but also that he is doing it on the left wing. Since the demise of Jonas Gutierrez, a player with more defensive grit than offensive prowess in the first place, the left wing has been the place where promising prospects go to die.
Sylvain Marveaux, oft-injured and inconsistent in black and white stripes, is now on loan at Guingamp after finding himself out of favor with Alan Pardew. Shane Ferguson, thought to be a versatile option at both left wing and left back, had a promising start on loan at Birmingham City before petering out. He made a total 29 appearances there over the last two seasons. Sammy Ameobi has had several dominant performances in the reserves and for the cup squad, but has never been able to put it together in a Premier League match. Hatem Ben Arfa played on the left some, but always preferred to cut inside from the right and hasn't been an option for Alan Pardew for almost a year now anyway. Pardew has also experimented with Davide Santon in a more forward position, but the result was less than desired.
The temporary answer has been Yoan Gouffran, serviceable but not consistently outstanding, and certainly not the natural goalscorer he was billed to be when management was supposedly trying to replace Demba Ba. When Aarons replaced Gouffran against Crystal Palace, the game changed. The offense opened up, and left back du jour Massadio Haïdara's ventures into the attacking third were rewarded in a way they weren't with Gouffran on the pitch. Since Rolando's emergence in the preseason, he's been the heir apparent to Yoan Gouffran. That transition may need to happen sooner rather than later if Newcastle are going to score enough goals to compensate for their porous defensive unit.
There's no guarantee that Aarons will not be the latest in a long line of flameouts, but his style is different enough that he could have staying power. He's certainly got confidence in bucketloads, a frankly needed character trait in a vanilla squad that has failed to answer the bell with any conviction since Boxing Day. Rolando Aarons gave the team a shot in the arm when they most needed it. If he's not the future at Newcastle United, it may be a bleak one. Somehow, an 18 year-old from Jamaica has become the Toon's best hope for a positive season.