Yesterday’s game up at Newcastle was one of the weirdest away day trips I’ve ever been on.
It was like everyone involved was a little bit ‘meh’ about the whole situation. In the away fans section there was singing but it wasn’t as raucous as it normally is away from home when we head up to the North East. And likewise the home fans perched at the top next to all of the away fans were certainly chirpy, but when it got to the end of the game it still felt flatter than I’d ever seen it.
That’s what you get when two teams effectively have nothing to play for I suppose and, despite the noises from the Geordies about staying up, hitting 40 points, etc, the reality is that they were never going down anyway.
And as for us, well, this just felt like par for the course given our away point. Zero – zero – points gained on the road in 2018. I think I speak unanimously for us all when I say the end to this domestic campaign can’t come quickly enough.
The game itself started like it was at walking pace and although Arsène suggested we were good in the first half, I didn’t think we were that impressive, whilst Newcastle were just content to sit off and have Shelvey play arching balls in between full back and centre half all day long.
To be fair to him it worked, because our back line was devoid of pace and at time any kind of semblance of understanding of what the Newcastle game plan was. Gayle made run after run all day and our defence neither tracked, nor positionally took up spots that could halt his run. It felt like a really basic and obvious tactic that we simply didn’t prepare for and didn’t deal with.
Gayle may not have got the goal, but it was an example of how flawed we are defensively and how much surgery is needed in this team because, take one or two key players out and we look a long way off a top Premier League side.
Arsène actually named a stronger team than I thought he would though. Cech, Xhaka, Lacazette, Monreal; all started when I’d have probably rested two or three of those, whilst in came Chambers at right back and Holding in central defence. It’s easy to say it didn’t work when you’ve lost and I don’t think Chambers had a particularly good game, but Newcastle didn’t massively trouble us throughout the whole match, yet we still contrived to sh*t the bed in a game on away soil. We’re such a generous team at times it really is embarrassing. Cech beaten at his near post should come as no surprise though. With every week that passes he looks more like he’s on the wane. He’s made mistakes – most goalies will have a rick in them or two – but he’s not making those saves you don’t expect him to make any more. Butland, Lloris, De Gea, Ederson, even Karius, all make the odd save that makes you gasp, but not Cech any more. I really do believe it’s time to address that position in the summer. Amongst many other positions to be fair though.
The midfield of Xhaka and Elneny was ok, kept things ticking over and I think Xhaka was one of the better performers on the day, but there was a clear lack of urgency across the whole midfield and the sideways passing of Elneny didn’t exactly help add any emphasis or drive to the team. I guess we know what we get with the Egyptian and he did make a couple of forward runs, but we were very reliant on Auba and Lacazette to combine well for creativity and whilst they did that for the goal, in the second half I thought both were not quite sharp enough. Which was a real shame because it looked like they were on each other’s wavelength half of the time.
But in the Premier League ‘half the time’ isn’t quite enough. I’ve seen enough from them both to suggest that they can play together, but it did feel like a massive waste of resource shunting Aubameyang our wide left. Why not play them both up top and have one in behind in Iwobi, with Willock sitting in with Xhaka and Elneny? We clearly have no intention of playing with any width and at times when we found Auba or Iwobi our wide, there was so much space between them and the nearest Arsenal player, that we had to cut back and the moves usually broke down.
We play such a central and congested style of football that it baffles me why we didn’t just give two up top a goal and rely on the ability and quick feet of those forward players to weave amongst the Newcastle defence. Even the Management asked me why Arsenal kept moving the ball centrally and didn’t use all of the space out wide. I had to simply shrug and say “we don’t have the players on the pitch and as a team we’ve been playing too centrally all season” as some sort of lame excuse for the way in which we had set up.
Joe Willock got a start and I thought the game passed him by a bit with a few nice touches, more poor touches and a couple of poor passes, but you can see there’s a good player in there. It’s just a shame he’s making his debut in an Arsenal team that is massively underperforming at the moment.
And so we lose again. The horrendous away form continues and another Wenger excuse of players being tired is used. But he will have known that and so why not rotate more? Because he hasn’t built a team capable of challenging and because he doesn’t have the same mojo as he had 15 years ago. We all know his time is up, I’m getting bored of writing about it, you’re getting bored of reading it, I just hope he can see it and walks/gets mutual consented when all of this is done and dusted.
I doubt he will though. Even if we win nothing and finish sixth or seventh. Arsène will remain, blinded by his own ignorance that he still has the ability to develop a side that can challenge for the top honours.
Anyway, have a good day, because at least we’re one more game closer to the end of this wretched domestic season.