A tough watch for the Toon fans who made the difficult trip down to North London, with us maintaining our awful record at Arsenal – where we’ve failed to score since 2014.
The referee was poor throughout and we might’ve led 1-0 if it wasn’t for a stunning first half save from Aaron Ramsdale, but we got what we deserved from this one in truth.
We sat too deep, were cut open too easily for both Arsenal goals, posed very little threat at the other end and were poor in possession.
The game also saw two players suspended for next Tuesday’s must-win clash with Norwich, as both Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie received their fifth bookings of the season.
Howe returned to the dugout after testing negative for Covid and he made three changes, seeing Dubravka, Krafth and Fraser come in for Darlow, Clark and Murphy.
It was difficult to know what the formation would be – some wondered if Fraser would play at wing-back our out wide in more of a 4-2-3-1 – but the early signs showed it was more the latter.
If anything, it looked like a 4-3-3 in the early stages, with Fraser drifting inside when we had the ball. Yet, out of possession, we set up in more of a 4-4-2 – seeing Fraser and ASM dropping back to protect both full-backs.
We made a solid start. There wasn’t a great deal to write home about in the first 10 minutes as Arsenal dominated possession, but we were competitive in our work off the ball, showing a willingness to get bodies back into good defensive positions.
Dubravka’s return was a welcome boost and his first contribution was a positive one, plucking the ball out of a busy penalty box from Arsenal’s first corner. Five minutes later he was also quick off his line to intercept a pass destined to put Saka in behind.
Wilson was also looking lively and trying to get in behind. He was harshly penalised after outmuscling Gabriel and almost got in just minutes later, only be flagged marginally offside after latching onto a lobbed through ball from Shelvey.
The first big chance arrived 15 minutes in as a clever diagonal found Saka. The England international had stolen a march on Ritchie at the back post, but fortunately for us his effort on the stretch was skewed wide.
If there was one criticism at this point it was we were sitting a little too deep, which invited pressure. limited us offensively and handed Arsenal a dangerous free-kick around the 20-minute mark. Odegaard stepped up and curled a shot towards the top left corner, but Dubravka was equal to it and tipped it to safety.
After Schar glanced our first effort of the game over, a brilliant effort from Jonjo Shelvey struck the bar. It looked destined to go in, but was met with an incredible fingertip save from Aaron Ramsdale -the man Eddie Howe brought to Bournemouth just a few years ago!
VAR somehow ignored Odegaard’s push on Schar from the resultant corner and Shelvey fired a powerful low shot at Ramsdale, who did well again. It was a routine stop in some respects, but Wilson was ready to tap in had he spilt it.
40 minutes in and Arsenal missed an absolute sitter to make it 1-0. After Smith-Rowe saw a point-blank header saved well by Dubravka, the ball fell to Aubameyang just a couple of yards out. The goal was gaping, yet the Gunners skipper tried to be too clever and hit the outside of the post.
Ritchie then got booked for a blatant block on Saka. It was his fifth yellow of the season, meaning he’ll now miss next Tuesday’s crucial clash with Norwich at St James’ Park.
Another chance arrived as a cut-back found Smith-Rowe in the box. Fortunately, his effort was blocked well by Krafth, however it was a little concerning how Arsenal were now starting to find space both out wide and in behind Shelvey and Willock.
The half-time whistle went after four additional minutes and we went in 0-0. In moments we looked more compact and could’ve taken the lead had it not been for a stunning stop from Ramsdale, yet fans inside the Emirates would be left wondering how on earth this didn’t go in from Aubameyang…
We had to be braver in the second half and impose ourselves more on Arsenal; who were dominating the ball and edging closer to a breakthrough as we headed into the break.
Saint-Maximin also needed to up his game. We know the threat he carries on the ball, yet he was causing problems of his own by being caught out in bad areas and failing to find teammates when a simple pass was on.
On the plus side, Dubravka was excellent, Krafth solid and Schar much improved after an erratic display on his return last weekend. Joelinton was putting in a shift and Wilson battling away, but both were feeding off scraps in attack.
The second 45 kicked off and it was a bad start for Krafth, who was booked for a blatant body check on Tavares, meaning both full-backs were now walking a tightrope.
As a result, Ritchie looked reluctant to get too close to Saka and was beaten easily by the winger just moments later. Thankfully though, his shot was gathered well by Dubravka after being allowed to cut inside.
After some neat build up play from Arsenal, Saka got in again just five minutes later – this time down the left-hand side after Krafth got himself on the wrong side. It was a tight angle, but he fired a low shot past Dubravka and into the far corner. 1-0 Arsenal.
We had to push up and impose ourselves on Arsenal. Sitting back for the first hour left us looking at a 0-0 at best, so something had to change if we wanted to get ourselves back into the game.
Lascelles then went into the book for a late challenge on Aubameyang, meaning he would join Ritchie in sitting out of next week’s clash with Norwich.
Our biggest opening of the second half then arrived as Shelvey put Wilson in behind with a brilliant ball over the top. He had the pace to get there, but fell at the vital moment. VAR checked it after claims of a push from Tavares, but there was nothing doing.
Just as our big chance to get back into the game passed us by, it was 2-0 Arsenal. It was a lovely finish from Martinelli, yet all too easy as Tomiyasu’s ball over the top found the Brazilian in far too much space.
A double change then arrived from Eddie Howe as Almiron and Murphy came on for Ritchie and Joelinton. The change was being prepared prior to Arsenal’s second, yet both now came onto the field with a mountain to climb.
We grew into the game at this point and pushed forward, but it was too little too late and slightly frustrating that we’d waited until going 2-0 down to do so.
Saint-Maximin tested Ramsdale after Schar released him down the left and that soon followed by Shelvey’s withdrawal, seeing Hayden come on for the final five minutes.
Arsenal saw out four added minutes and secured the win, leaving us bottom of the league and still without a win 13 games in.
Next up, Norwich and Burnley at home in what promises to be the most important week of our season by some distance.