Newcastle United Review: A Tale Of Two Halves

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?

’til Tomorrow.

19 thoughts on “Newcastle United Review: A Tale Of Two Halves

  1. Great to get another three points on the board and a third consecutive win suggests progress is being made. I am really concerned though that we really aren’t making any progress at all at the back. Cech is still making mistakes on the ball and Mustafi is still a disaster just waiting to happen. The pairing of Guendouzi and Xhaka isn’t working at all and it seems clear that Torreira provides more balance in the middle. So we seem to have a manager who is too stubborn to make changes that are crying out to be made and are getting through games by the skin of our teeth. It just all sounds a bit similar to me. I can see that the manager is trying to do something new, but this all or nothing approach seems a huge risk. That we have taken 9 points out of 15 suggests that the gamble has paid off so far, but our previous manager liked a gamble and they often blew up in his face. It is important to keep collecting the 3 points as we settle into a preferred style of play and the front players are getting more used to playing together every game they get under their belts. The team will continue to develop, but the defence/midfield gambles just seem unnecessary.

  2. G’ day indeed.

    I don’t understand Mustafi. Wasn’t he touted as an outstanding CB who was the one that we desperately needed? An established International and a strong player. Not cheap and playing in a good side to boot.

    Wtf happened?

  3. He was never ‘World Class’. His WC winners medal was as a squad player because he never played after the group stage due to injury. £35m buys you a WC centre-back. Except in our case, it Water Closet.

  4. Wavey

    Think he is giving players a chance, although five games is enough of one in my book. Guendouzi hasn’t done much wrong but with Xhaka it’s a pairing that doesn’t work.

    We’ll see next weekend whether that’s me just hoping or really the case.

  5. consolsbob,

    Think it was his beard. Very tidy.
    Rest of him, shambles.
    If he has to focus on the sky for more than two seconds , he collapses. His mother must have been very worried.

  6. Well, 3 points away and early sub on of Torreira. Maybe he will start and not be as effective, who can say? But I am looking forward to finding out soon hopefully.

    YW, i’m not really sure we are getting better yet at Emery’s plan/style. I see us making a couple passes and hitting it long pretty frequently and the high press was absent for long stretches of that game. And despite what seemed better defending, some bad errors crept in including a real propensity to ignore warning signs. A cross in from our left side with an unmarked opponent getting to the ball. That happened soon before the exact same play led to the late Newcastle goal. It was like that last season as well when Shelvey kept causing trouble by putting in long balls over the top into the channels over and over again before the same tactic led to a goal and our team had failed to notice and adjust to an obvious tactic. I put that down to AW not coaching from the sidelines but I think our team still lacks awareness defensively.

    What I do like is Laca’s robust all around play—seems like a 9.5 player. He seems much more prepared physically and mentally for the league. Also Ozil although anonymous for the first half and technically/mentally not sharp, made a difference in the second half by dropping deeper to set up play and then getting forward. And he actually took a shot instead of looking for a pass in the box! Amazing!

    We still have a lot of work to do but we are level with MU and Spurs despite two losses to City and Chelsea. That’s pretty decent in a transition year so far. 10 games and let’s see.

  7. Wavey,

    I think – after five games – you can’t say “we seem to have a manager who is too stubborn to make changes that are crying out to be made”. He’s trying to make things work and it takes longer than than he’s had. Otherwise it’s just knee-jerk

  8. consolsbob,
    I actually disagree. I thought Mustafi did OK minus his slip. He’s been good this season, not perfect but not as bad as everyone makes out.

    Bellerin even looked better defensively In second half.

    Their goal was a fantastic cross and header. Not like Cardiffs goals which were horrible from a defensive stand point.

  9. Good stuff Yogi!

    Another 3 points and now 9 out of 15 with positives even in the Chelsea match(better finishing and we are 12 from 15) plus Emery trying to instill and undo basically the last 10 of Arsene and Arsrnal dropping in levels and while there are negatives, there are also plenty of positives.

    I know Aubameyang, like Lacazette are still learning to play together but we are creating chances and there is no way one or both won’t find their shooting boots….there are some of the best finishers in Europe and attacking isn’t our problem. In the 2nd half we looked much more balance with Torriera and it than brings the question: do we push forward with the Xhaka who is quite good at what he does but isn’t alwaya mobile but has showed signs positionally or the more athletic and mobile Guendouzi? I say Xhaka and let Guendouzi countinue to build in the cups but also against more athletic midfields pair him with Torriera.

    Defensively, first and foremost its time for Leno to take over; we are creating pressure when the defenders pass to Cech instead of the opposite which is supposed to happen. The other thing that I do want more from Cech is commanding his box to help take some of the pressure off our CB’s with all the crosses coming in.
    With Mustafi and Sokaritis, there has been moments of madness and moments of promise, they are who we have and we have to see the impact of Leno and Torriera who are both much more comfortable in the high press, high line.

  10. Wavey,

    How can you say stubborn when we know nothing of why he didn’t pick him. He spent all summer when Guendouzi who has out in good performances so far. On top of which he also picked up a knock so why risk starting him. Seems like a rash judgement made 5 games in with 3 wins back to back two of which away from home and one where we got embarrassed last season.

    We’ve all said from start, it will take emery 4/5 windows to get the players in he wants. But 3 out of last 3 is good.

  11. MesutsLeftFoot,

    Completely agree, I think Mustafi has been better than he gets credit for and not all of the goals were his fault, especially against Chelsea when Morata was picking on Sokaritis.

    Its funny that people get after Bellerin for not closing down crosses when it felt like most of Newcastle’s best attack and the cross came from Nacho not doing just that.

    Their are signs and sure we lost to Chelsea but I honestly wonder how much the outlook would have changed if Aubameyang scores his w, Iwobi and Mhkitaryan take their chance as well. O yea, and for all of Spuds being far superior to us, is it more damning to lose to Watford and Liverpool not looking in either match until a late goal or Chelsea and Citeh in matches we looked like we could of got something out of both matches with better finishing…

  12. Pickford again shows how important it is for GK’s in modern futbol to be able to pass and release the pressure and when it all goes wrong, the opposition presses, wins the ball back and scores immediately.

  13. 1971Thistle,

    1971Thistle,

    Oops, questioning the new boss is obviously a no-no.

    I understand it will take time for him to get his players in and get the team in place that he wants. So if its about changing things over time surely you compromise now rather than trying to change everything on day one.

    When Emery interviewed at the club he apparently impressed the management with his knowledge of the squad and his thoughts on how to take the club forward. The following things must have been fairly clear to him in those observations, Xhaka needs a defensive player next to him if he has any chance at all in the PL, Mustafi regularly makes stupid mistakes and Cech is slowing down and isn’t the best with the ball at his feet. So if you intend to play from the back surely you don’t play all three of those players in your starting 11? You may get away with playing one of them, but all three is asking for trouble.

    We’ve now conceded 9 goals in 5 games which includes games against the bottom club (who I know just beat Everton) and a newly-promoted team who hadn’t scored a goal before playing us.

    I am not looking for a return to the old days and am certainly not a fan of Wenger’s. I know it will take time to sort out the squad, but I also don’t see why a manager gets a free pass just because he is new. To me it looks fairly obvious that those three players are a serious part of the problem and, as he is meant to have done his homework, he will have known that already.

    I think Guendouzi is a good player, but he isn’t ready to carry Xhaka in the middle of the park, but someone has to. Torreira may be better at it. Maybe he won’t be, but we already know what happens with Xhaka and Guendouzi together and the youngster isn’t strong enough to cover for Xhaka yet.

    We bought a player in the summer who is known for his ability with his feet, exactly the type of keeper the manager likes. Instead of playing him we insist on playing Cech who, yet again, made a complete balls up when receiving a back pass under a little pressure yesterday. He could have hoofed it into row Z, but he managed to pass it out for a corner.

    Its’s not even worth talking about Mustafi, surely we should consider giving someone else a chance. At least even Sokratis has worked out that he will need to bail Mustafi out 2 – 3 times a game.

    Am I just being impatient? Maybe, but I’m just not seeing much improvement in our defesnive game and we seem to hamstring ourselves by playing players who are not suited to the way the manager wants to play. As he is the one picking them it seems reasonable to question whether it is stubborness.

  14. The slowness of Arsenal’s passing from the back is largely responsible for the problems that ensue. When Cech gets rid of the ball quickly (especially when he throw or rolls the ball out) and his defenders move it up promptly then it’s usually fine. But that seldom happens. When Cech dithers and the defenders stand still, look around, and then start passing slowly between themselves, the opposition has plenty of time to have everyone covered and start pressing. And this is their usual MO.
    You don’t see the top teams doing this: they move the ball up quickly and, by so doing, create space for forward players to receive it. I don’t know why Emery permits this agonizing play: surely he sees how ineffective it is. And, when everyone starts dithering, it’s also pitiful to watch.

  15. I cringed to see the ease and freedom with which Clark was allowed to score the Newks goal in time added-on.
    And I was reminded of George Graham’s philosophy that successful teams are invariably built from a sure defence.
    One-nil to the Arsenal was boring during his tenure……but the defence was resolute. 😉

  16. I don’t think Holding is worse in comparison to Mustafi, but I feel Mr Emery might have a management theory at play. He is towing the safe line, he doesn’t want to change too many things at once, the changes he is making would be gradual.

    Elneny has not played a single minute in 5 games, and I think he and Holding are the only players who played a part last season without appearing even once in the new dispensation.

    So the Europa league will reveal the fringe players coming into the team and good performances would then tip the scale in favor of the fringe players, if indeed they can step up.

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