Newcastle United 0 – 1 Arsenal
On every level, Yesterday’s win at St James Park was ideal. Bar entertaining football; I’ll give you that.
Entertaining football, however, isn’t what was needed; a clean sheet and three points were. Let’s be honest about the performance; we’ll play better and lose. The air of preseason never lifted from the XI with stray passes and woeful finishes evident.
Sometimes from the same player which gives a prime example. While they were on the pitch together, Joe Willock and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ceded possession at similar levels or so I read.
It’s an instructive lesson in player popularity because Willock gave a promising performance. Mkhitaryan, on the other hand, was hopeless for large swathes of the match.
If he had been hooked at halftime, nobody would have complained. To the surprise of everyone, he wasn’t. Imagine my surprise when I read he completed 33 of his 45 passes.
The problem with the Armenian is that he too often shows the talent he possesses, making you wonder why he doesn’t do so more consistently. A sublime pass sent Aubameyang through but weighing heavily against that is the ballooned effort when scoring seemed easier.
Nicolas Pepe won’t be losing sleep about competition for his place in the first XI.
That’s focussing too much on the wrong individual for the wrong reason. Using last season as a benchmark, yesterday’s performance was a vast improvement. We maintained our defensive shape for the most part, with the only concern being that we left too big a gap to Reiss Nelson and Aubameyang.
However, throttling and subsequently compressing play had the desired effect; the home crowd’s apathy surfaced. Only when we became sloppy and ceded possession cheaply did they come alive. The hills certainly had eyes when Shelvey’s shot deflected onto the post.
Auba Through, Auba Scores
For the large part, we forced Newcastle to make unforced errors. When we retained the ball and threatened their penalty area, the fouled with no fear of punishment.
Martin Atkinson proved them right. Bodychecks and grabbing the neck of an opponent’s shirt by those in black and white were met with “Oh, you little tinker” from the inept official.
Looking at the ball in an aggressive manner whilst wearing a yellow shirt? A cautionable offence. Fair play to those who fell foul of Atkinson for not seeing red.
Unai was pleased with the performance. He made it plain that winning was all but went onto say:
I want to win, I want to score and I want to do a clean sheet. Today we won and we did that. The balance offensively and defensively is only taken with the victory.
Today, I think, in our 90 minutes we could do that with taking the match very seriously, being very compact and controlling the game with the ball. Also, I think we created chances and we need also to create chances for our strikers and today with Auba we won.Unai wants to win. He really does.
To win you must score goals and Aubameyang’s beautiful finish proved the difference between the two sides. Ainsley Maitland-Niles sprinted to intercept a cross-field pass, gambolled down the wing and delivered a composed pass to Auba, who exploited the space left by an errant centre-back.
Basically, it was the sort of goal we conceded last year except we delivered it with more finesse. I can’t speak highly enough of AMN’s contribution; it was alert, instinctive, ambitious but calm.
Calm, Calm, Calm
That was the striking aspect, even more so than Auba’s instinctive finishing; AMN wasn’t flustered, didn’t suffer a rush of blood to the head. Maybe a place in the midfield for the youngster next season isn’t so fanciful a notion.
As a whole, the back four played well. Newcastle’s chances remained below double digits which given our away form last year, is hugely unimpressive. Half of them were from distance, offering a better view of the defensive unity between midfield and defenders.
Calum Chambers impressed in the centre of defence. His disciplined performance alongside Sokratis was a breath of fresh air. It relaxed the Greek as well; he was free to lead the defensive line and bring his own style of sh*thousery to the table.
As did Dani Ceballos; we may no longer be the genial pushovers of recent years. And Sideshow Bob sat on the bench throughout…
Overall, it was a game where we shook off the rust. We took three points, saw interesting cameos from new signings, as well as from youngsters. For a team which was missing half of what will be the first XI when all are fit, we did pretty well.
Three Things I Noticed At St James Park
- If Manchester United can loan Alexis, can’t we do the same with Mkhitaryan? It can’t be that hard, surely?
- Mustafi won’t even play in domestic cups or Europa League dead rubbers unless we put him at right back.
- That’s it. Two out is enough, especially if we get €30m for Mustafi.