The people that normally revel in possession statistics would have been extremely happy with the first 45 minutes of the Arsenal v Newcastle clash, especially if they were Gooners, with Arsenal clocking up 70% plus against a Steve Bruce side that looks destined to fight the remainder of this season to avoid the drop.
Newcastle regularly frittered the ball away and chose to make life more difficult by putting bodies behind the ball, probably hoping that Arsenal would suffer a similar malfunction as they did against Crystal Palace. The only statistic that counts is the end scoreline and the 3-0 win came as a result of Arsenal’s perseverance, continuously pushing forward and applying pressure.
If a team has nothing to offer upfront, which Newcastle clearly don’t, then the pressure can’t be released and eventually, the defensive barrier collapses. This was the case here, with Arsenal struggling to cut a path through a determined wall of Newcastle players, but by the 50th minute, their resolve was dissipating when the commanding figure of Thomas Partey put a delightful and precise pass into the path of the Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score the opener.
Smith Rowe and Saka will continue to grab the headlines but if you’ve recorded the Arsenal v Newcastle match, replay it and only watch the contribution of Partey. He was busy in both halves, mopping up the ball, putting in challenges, keeping the play moving forward, and delivering an array of quality passes as Arsenal breezed forward but Newcastle were guilty of going for a point, therefore Arsenal’s job was always going to be a hard one.
Fans might bemoan a hard watch in the first 45 minutes, but it helps if the other team has equal ambition and quality. Newcastle didn’t. Steve Bruce can moan and offer his excuses but most observers can see through this particular deception and lamentable smokescreen.
This time Bruce plumped for being ‘caught on the break’ because it was obvious to everyone that his team were left vulnerable by dropping deep, but surely that’s a tactical mistake rather than one that rests at the feet of his players. I dislike it when managers, who know that they are looking down the muzzle, start consulting their Jose Mourinho book of flimsy excuses with a foreword by Sir Alex Ferguson.
The problem for Bruce is simple, he doesn’t have enough to occupy the opposition in the attack, and when Newcastle have tried this ploy in the past, they’ve failed. They have also employed a deep strategy or pushed high up the pitch only to rely on counters, but the first point undermines this tactic and also ends in failure.
The partnership between Xhaka and Partey showed genuine promise but it has to be tested at a far higher level before it’s proven. The interaction between Saka and Smith Rowe reaped dividends on the left and the right and ESR continues to develop in the role of a playmaker with his short passes, excellent movement, vision, and awareness.
Tierney was back for the Arsenal v Newcastle game, proving to be a constant threat down the left with his exquisite control, pace, and appetite. His range of wicked crosses is phenomenal and if his strikers are to profit from them, they need to get in position quicker or find a new vantage point inside the opponent’s area.
Luiz was dominant at the back, like a guard dog at a car lot, offering challenges where needed, but also keeping it honest and simple. He even made his presence felt on Andy Carroll, not something that is generally recommended.
In short, the individual elements were fantastic in the Arsenal v Newcastle game but the combination of them all was heartwarming, increasing fans’ optimism in the long term. Yes, this Premier League season’s performances will fluctuate and offer mixed performances and results but the inclusion of academy youngsters and the side purchases of Tierney, Martinelli, and Partey make the campaigns ahead compelling.
A rare Newcastle attack broke down and the flighted ball was cleared from the head of Cedric (49.01), Lacazette provided a pass to Partey. Partey looked up and saw Aubameyang, who still had plenty to do but it was on his favourite side. He made no mistake, lashing it into the net.
Another failed Newcastle attack (59.41) ended up in the hands of Leno. The German fed the ball out to Partey, the big man passed to Aubameyang who popped it forward to Smith Rowe. The youngster, who was initially facing his captain, turned and went goalwards, embarrassing Lascelles who’s legs couldn’t cope with the changes in pace and direction. SR cut the ball back for the advancing Saka to slot home (60.01).
(76.22) A failed clearance thudded into Cedric, who passed to Saka only to receive the return. The left-back raced to the line and nearly overcooked it, but he managed to somehow whip a low cross in for Aubameyang to score. If the Arsenal captain scores an easier goal this season, I’d be surprised.
So, Newcastle United have conceded five goals in their two games against Arsenal, the previous one being 2-0 in the FA Cup and after the final whistle, they wore the haunted look of relegation candidates.