H'way the away day!
Updated: Oct 12
Newcastle 1-2 Arsenal
With the International (Interlull) break finally over, Arsenal travelled up north to face the mighty Newcastle Utd at St James's Park. A venue forever imprinted on Arsenal minds for 'that Bergkamp goal'; quite a few wins but a poor performance last season where Arsenal took the lead only to surrender that advantage to a 2-1 defeat. Wenger at his worst!
With a fully-fit squad to to pick from, Unai Emery surprised everyone by picking an unchanged line-up, thus subjecting Arsenal fans to more 'Cech in goal' Guendouzi rather than Torriera and Ozil playing in a stadium he was always too 'sickly' to play in before. A 4-2-3-1 formation leaving Aubameyang out wide again with Lacazette up front. A week of 'video spiel' from Arsenal.com showing 'the boys' having much fun in training, pressing and shooting gave one the impression that Arsenal were heading into this fixture confident and sharp. Note to self: I haven't seen any videos of Cech or Leno playing out of the back under pressure, maybe that material is 'top shelf' in the back of the video store, 18 certificate!
Arsenal started the game slowly, a worrying trait from all the games so far this season; happy to have possession but ponderous with it, slow passing and wrong choices leading to Newcastle breaks. This wasn't the same Toon Army that tried to shut out Chelsea; this army could smell the whiff of blood in the air, crosses and corners defended poorly and zonal by Arsenal. Cech again playing a ball straight out of play under pressure lifted the crowd and gave the opposition a sense of belief. Chances came, and on 22 minutes Mustafi failed to deal with a routine punt up field, falling to the deck rather than heading the ball clear and giving Murphy a chance one on one to take the lead. Luckily for Arsenal the situation was read by Sokratis who got in a last ditch challenge.
Shodran: "Sorry the sun got in my eyes"
Sokratis: "Sun? mate, we're in Newcastle"
Arsenal were living dangerously, and from the resulting corner a clearance, followed by a collective 'push up', led to another Newcastle chance, as young Guendouzi (who didn't get the memo) stayed in the box and played three Newcastle players onside. Luckily Petr Cech produced a one-handed clearance to safety.
Newcastle were being made to look like Juventus, sending most of their long balls over the back of the advancing Bellerin, the covering players in Guendouzi and Mustafi showing why, (along with Cech's footwork), they are Arsenals' main weak point. It took 35 minutes for Arsenal to muster a genuine chance, our Welsh Messi (Ramsey) shanking a cross behind for a goal kick when it was easier to play in Aubameyang for a tap in. AC Milan take note!
As the half-time whistle blew, Cech left the field clutching the ball with a grimace which pretty much summed up the first half.
If Emery is going to persist with Ramsey and Ozil in the same team then there really needs to be a more defensive mind-set in 'the two' sitting behind. Guendouzi is ambitious and great to watch on the ball, but without it his erratic positioning leads to gaps that the less than pacy Xhaka can't fill. Time for the boss to do his half-time switch and surely #TimeforTorreira !
The expected change was made; Guendouzi got hooked and little Lucas got the chance to shine in the second 45. Arsenal immediately looked sharper, Torriera increasing the tempo of the passing in midfield, simple but effective work, not as skillful as Santi, but a player Arsenal have been missing. Five minutes into the second half another positive pass forward from the Uruguayan International found Aubameyang with his back to goal, upended by a clumsy challenge (and one that seemed to affect the striker for the rest of the half), Arsenal were presented with a chance to get an attempt on target. A free kick just outside the edge of the box with both Torriera and Xhaka standing over it. The result? An absolute blinder of a free-kick from the Swiss International, curled over the wall, keeper no chance. One nil to the Arsenal!
A brilliant strike capping a strong performance, when Xhaka can he can can. A snatched lead maybe, however the confidence the goal gave Arsenal was obvious. Suddenly the possession looked more controlled, passing more accurate - and if we did lose the ball Torriera was on hand to to quickly mop it up and keep the momentum going. This kind of suffocation play led to Arsenal's second; a long possession attack finding Xhaka in space. He crossed from the by-line, Lacazettes shoot was blocked, but Ozil calmly slotted in the rebound with a casual side-foot finish from the penalty spot. 57 minutes, 2-0, surely game over!
Aubameyang, who was having a frustrating afternoon on the left, nearly made it 3-0 a few minutes later after good interplay with Lacazette. However the Gabon striker fluffed his lines, sending his shot beyond the far post. Possibly injured from the earlier challenge that led to the first goal, or maybe I'm just making excuses? (I like Lacazette and Auba in the same team, but can't they play up front together?). I realise this presents issues in the midfield, but I just don't think Patrick on the left works.
On 72 mins Torriera sent a good chance way over, not quite Row Z but definitely high, wide and handsome, keeper not troubled and probably the reason he didn't get the chance to take the earlier free kick. This miss and the ensuing laughter amongst the players on the pitch seemed to irk the Geordie faithful, and they urged their team on for the last twenty minutes as Arsenal played deeper.
Cech made a good save from a free header on 88 mins as the home side pressed, and Arsenal relied on attacks on the break. Could Arsenal keep a clean sheet for the first time this season?
Er - no!
In injury time, as Arsenal sat back, a long ball out from the Newcastle keeper beat Mykitaryan leaving Fernandez to whip in a great cross from the right, Joselu heading in from close range at the back post. Both Bellerin and Mustafi were equally at fault, but to be honest the cross was a very good one, and switching off in the 91st minute of a tough game can be forgiven.
So it got very noisy for the next three minutes as those Geordies still left in the stadium frothed at the mouth, but ultimately that was it, the game ending with Arsenal possession on the right hand side.
2-1, a good win, just don't mention the first half!
Possession: Geordies 36% Gooners 64%
Shots: Geordies 4 Gooners 12
On target: Geordies 2 Gooners 2
Corners: Geordies 10 Gooners 4
Fouls: Geordies 13 Gooners 11
Cech: Dodgy footwork again at times but made some good saves to keep Arsenal in it especially during the first half. 6/10
Bellerin: Better defensively but still leaves gaps that aren't covered at times. 6/10
Mustafi: Looked vulnerable again, got away with one terrible error. 4/10
Sokratis: Strong performance, saved Mustafi and Arsenal on a couple occasions and showed good pace. 7/10
Monreal: Quiet game but got forward well. 6/10
Guendouzi: Looked lively but was hooked for more solidity at half-time. 5/10
Xhaka: Cracking free-kick and looked more solid especially when Torriera was introduced. MOM 7/10
Ozil: Quiet game, not many passes came off but took his goal well. 7/10
Ramsey: Another quiet game, not sure it works with Ozil, could have set up an opener. 6/10
Aubameyang: Not really working for him on the left, missed a good chance, looked injured after challenge that led to Xhaka thunderbolt. 6/10
Lacazette: Worked hard, held the ball up well and tried to link up with Aubameyang. 7/10
SUBS: Torriera: Must have played himself in now, good effort 7/10. Welbeck & Mykitaryan ran around a bit. 6/10
Up next a team nobody has heard in the Europa league and a home game against Everton, another 3 points and a better performance needed. #TimeforTorriera either with Xhaka or Guendouzi.... c'mon Unai... do it!