Could someone remind Steve Bruce and the Newcastle United squad that we’re 17th and still in the midst of a relegation battle?
An abysmal performance at St James’ Park, with us playing like a side with one eye on their summer holidays – not securing Premier League survival.
After Elneny gave the visitors a 1-0 lead just five minutes in, we failed to lay a glove on the Gunners before Aubameyang made it two in a second half that ended with a red card for Fabian Schar.
One shot on target, 38% possession and a big chance missed to extend our lead over the drop zone – not to mention the fact we could’ve gone 13th with a win.
We may remain nine points clear of danger, but with Leicester and Man City up next at a time where Fulham face Burnley and Southampton, this was especially unacceptable – handing Scott Parker’s side an avoidable glimpse of hope in their bid to beat the drop.
Steve Bruce made just one change to the side that earned a 1-1 draw at Anfield last weekend, bringing Callum Wilson in for Joelinton in attack and sticking with a 5-2-3 formation.
It was our top scorer’s first start since February, with Matt Ritchie also passing a late fitness test after suffering a calf injury in midweek.
There was no Joe WIllock, who was ineligible against his parent club, but this felt like a team capable of beating a mid-table Arsenal side who’d made wholesale changes ahead of their Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal next week.
The game kicked off and we immediately sat off Arsenal, looking like a side who felt they were already safe in the opening stages – an approach that was punished within six minutes.
After Luiz’s lofted through ball put Bellerin in down the right, his cross was miscued by Aubameyang and fell to Elneny on the edge of the box. The Egyptian isn’t known for his goals, but smashed a volley into the back of the net. No pressure on the ball, Dummett exposed too easily down the left and a strike that Dubravka could and should have got a stronger hand to.
1-0 Arsenal and a pretty pathetic start from our point of view, gifting one of the poorest Arsenal sides we’ve seen an early confidence boost. We need to step up the pitch, push our wing-backs up, up the intensity and press the ball, with the first 15 minutes being that of a side eyeing their summer holidays – not securing Premier League safety!
There was a flicker of a response via Allan Saint-Maximin, who got one shot away and Xhaka booked, but it was a slow, sloppy and half-hearted start from the home side.
Half an hour in and it was very nearly two. First Xhaka had a well struck shot tipped wide by Dubravka, then the Slovakian was bailed out from the resultant corner as Almiron cleared an Elneny header off the line.
Mike Dean then fell for a shameless Ceballos dive which got the Paraguayan booked – a decision about as bad as our first half performance up to this point, with our attack isolated, our midfield anonymous and our back line all at sea.
40 minutes in and we’ve had 37% of the ball, 2 shots to Arsenal’s 12 and just four touches in the opposition box. In truth, we were lucky it was only 0-1.
Half-time and it seems both Steve Bruce and the players needed reminding that we are 17th and still in a relegation battle.
Our negative approach, lack of intensity or movement was painful to watch against a beatable Arsenal side. You’d like to think the second half could only get better, however we were sleepwalking towards an avoidable defeat if we didn’t seriously buck our ideas up.
We came out from the break with a little more urgency, upping the tempo, denying Arsenal easy possession and committing bodies forward when we got on the ball, yet this still didn’t result in any meaningful efforts on target, with us continuing to rely on hopeful balls up to Wilson or ASM bursts.
Just after David Luiz limped off with a hamstring injury, Xhaka was lucky to stay on the pitch after a cynical block on Sean Longstaff. If it was higher up the pitch he’d have been off, but it’s laughable that this was ignored by Mike Dean when Almiron was cautioned for far less in the first half.
Half an hour to go and we needed to change it. Instead, we went 2-0 down with 25 minutes remaining. Murphy didn’t get close enough to Martinelli – not for the first time – and the Brazilian’s cross was poked home at the back post by Aubameyang. Another poor goal to concede but it’s exactly what we deserved, sadly.
Bruce then made two changes, bringing Schar and Joelinton on for the frankly awful Fernandez and a booked Almiron, with Gayle also replacing Clark in the closing stages. Yep, that’s right, we stuck on all of ours attackers and hoped for the best, with Wilson, ASM, Joelinton and Gayle ALL on the pitch at the same time at this point.
Needless to say, it didn’t work and things then went from bad to worse as a reckless lunge from Schar saw him sent off for a foul on Martinelli. It looked harsh but VAR stood by Mike Dean’s decision, meaning the Swiss defender was back on the sidelines for a few more weeks after only just returning from two months out.
The camera panned to Joe Willock sat in the stands with a few minutes to play and his reaction summed up this one pretty well…
On a weekend that saw many stay off social media, it seemed we had decided to boycott our survival bid. A pathetic performance that stunk of a side who think they’re safe and manager who got his ‘tactics’ all wrong.
Next up, a tough trip to Leicester City next Friday night!