The dust has settled following yesterday’s 0-1 defeat at St James’ Park, so it feels like a good time to look at the positives and negatives from the performance.
- We well and truly contained Arsenal in the first half and were in control of the game for me. Yes we didn’t create much at all, but we seem organised at the back and certainly didn’t look like a side that suddenly didn’t know how to defend now Rafa has gone. Even in the second half we restricted Arsenal to few openings. If it wasn’t for a mix-up between Willems and Dummett, can you honestly say we looked like conceding?
- A few promising performances. Almiron was very lively in the first half, Hayden was everywhere and picked up from where he left off last season, Manquillo did a very good job defensively and Shelvey got stuck in and was steady on the ball prior to him coming off.
- Perspective is needed. The ‘negatives’ below do highlight some of the fundamental issues with yesterday’s display, but it’s worth mentioning that Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle had 1 shot on target prior to Clark’s 92nd minute goal in our early-season 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal in September last year. That day we had 4 shots in all (we had 9 yesterday), we had less possession, we conceded twice and gave Arsenal 12 shots – yet yesterday we conceded via a needless error, giving them just 8 shots in all and just 2 on target. Clutching at straws? Perhaps, but I don’t think the nature of this defeat warrants an overreaction.
- The lack goal threat. We have talented and dynamic attackers in Joelinton, Almiron and Saint-Maximin, but Bruce must find a way of getting the best out of them. One clear issue was the lack of support Joelinton received, with Almiron often having to drop very deep to pick up the ball. As a result the two were often too far apart and we really struggled to trouble an average Arsenal side who had conceded in 18 of their last 19 Premier League away games prior to yesterday.
- The concerning second half tactics – or, should I say, the complete lack of them. Our first-half approach seemed to work well (without seeing us create much), with us boxing Arsenal in, forcing them into errors and maintaining a high press effectively, but we totally ran out of steam in the second half. Not only that, it felt like the players didn’t quite know where they were playing for the majority of the second 45. Our shape was non existent and we looked lost at a time you’d have expected a late surge for an equaliser. There was a mix-up between Willems – who initially played in midfield then moved to left-back – then we had Ritchie playing centrally, an exhausted Almiron dropping back and Allan Saint-Maximin drifting about and eventually ending up on the left. It felt like Bruce threw on his new signings, kept tired players on the pitch and just hoped for the best.
- Finally, there were a few below-par performances from certain individuals. Schar was far more wayward and erratic with his passing, Ritchie’s final ball was very poor – and it felt like he was in no mans land for most of the game – Longstaff was unusually untidy in the first half and Willems was guilty of ball watching in the build up to their goal.
It’s early days. I’m hopeful when I look at the talent in our squad, but Bruce’s tactics and game management did create a slight cause for concern.
Let’s hope we can get the balance right against Norwich on Saturday – a game which should give us a far better idea of where we’re really at.