Newcastle United 1 – 2 Arsenal
There was something oddly familiar about the three points. It’s odd only because of the turnaround at half-time in the intensity of the performance, not the change in personnel. That Unai Emery moved swiftly to alter things in the interval is commendable.
The next phase of this very much a work-in-progress is for every box to be ticked from kick-off.
It wasn’t lost on Emery, as you would expect.
“In the first half we didn’t control the match like we wanted to.
“In the second half, the balance on the pitch was better – our positioning and when we were attacking we didn’t make the transition easy for us.
“I think the key is the first goal. This goal gave us the confidence to continue to improve in the match. We finished the match with the result.”
Coming as early as it did in the second half, Xhaka’s excellent free-kick had a huge impact on the game. Özil adding the second – in what was his best performance away from home in a while – quickly after sealed the win. Newcastle were deflated from the first and the air sucked from them within ten minutes.
It’s easy to focus on the introduction of Lucas Torreira at half-time. He, as Emery admitted, brought more balance to the side but doesn’t account for the improved focus after the break. Torreira contributed to that with the similarities between Xhaka and Guendouzi the reason their pairing on their own in the middle doesn’t work. Put Torreira in between and there is a good triumvirate for an away game where we expect to be on the back foot.
Surprisingly, the Uruguayan didn’t start. Emery has his reasons, be they tactical or loyalty to a winning side, but the plan isn’t working completely.
You’ve Got To Admit It’s Getting Better
It’s easy to focus on the negative, the problems and there are more than a few to focus on, but there are also a lot of positives. To do so is to split the game into its’ two halves.
Petr Cech brought forth a slew of stats earlier in the week to prove he’s the best man for the job. In a traditional goalkeeping sense that might be true, but with Emery demanding that we play out from the back the case is undermined. Once again the problems in the first half were largely of our own making.
Newcastle pressed when we looked to play out from the back, engendering panic. The obligatory Keystone Kops moment came from Mustafi, rescued by Sokratis. If the latter glided across the turf, the former was Bambi on ice.
Gaps appeared behind Hector Bellerin as he pressed forward with the full-back copping flak because it’s the easy thing to do. Noticeably, the problem lessened in the second half: balance.
And with the solutions we provided, Newcastle’s confidence diminished. The gap between the two sides became apparent on the field as it is on paper. The Magpies ran out of steam as we killed the game.
They still had moments and disappointingly scored in injury time. Disappointing from the timing – imagine the boost a clean sheet would give to an under-pressure defence – as well as the manner. Poor defensive play all round, from stopping the move at the source, cutting out the cross and lax marking to allow Clark to score.
Embracing both Aubameyang and Lacazette in the XI is a formidable problem to solve. The former is a prolific goalscorer and just because he is quick, doesn’t mean he is a winger or wide forward. It’s a different art and wasting Aubameyang’s strengths.
Getting Better All The Time
There’s no quick solution either. However, in playing both we suffer the loss of the genuine width of Mkhitaryan, who it seems prefers a central role. That underlines the unbalanced nature of the squad Emery inherited for the style he wants to employ. Natural width is lacking and attacking players with defensive sensibilities are in short supply.
The summer couldn’t address the issue with other issues to resolve; it’s a four-window solution.
Overall, it was a pleasing win. We continue to improve, but there is still much to do. Emery backtracked on not changing eleven players with the clearest indication yet that Leno will start on Thursday. Will a confident performance in distribution as well as a safe pair of hands offer him a route to the Premier League XI?
It’s certainly the reverse journey for Guendouzi in my view; the Europa League can be a useful part of his learning curve and at this part of the season, there are (potentially) plenty of cup games in which for him to feature.
Three points; in part solid, in part jelly. We’re showing the durability and character to become the flat-track bullies, upon which the top four is built. We’ve just got to find the belief to be dominant from the start. It’s coming; the question is how quickly?