There is only one place we could go with this. Cast your minds back less than 12 months. A wonderful night, a night where Arsenal bottled their Champions League chase. Stephen Ord had the words back then, and he has got them again now.
Newcastle United 2 Arsenal 0, St James’ Park, 16/May/22, KO:20:00, Premier League.
This is what it’s like to be good. This is what it’s like to play football. This is what it’s like even when the club has won nothing at all.
The game today was in danger of being overshadowed by the pre-match display, the flags and everything were amazing. Blue star in the Leazes, black and white all over and it felt like a trophy presentation, and we’ve won nothing. Everyone at Wor Flags deserves so much credit for what they did tonight, they made the club look incredible and I had some Gooners texting me asking if this was done just for tonight. This atmosphere is every home game, we are a different club now. The club itself is doing something implausible. Anyone who was or wasn’t there, I ask you to think back to Watford’s equaliser in January. I left the ground thinking we were done, that relegation was coming – Eddie Howe has worked a minor miracle.
We started on the front foot, I’m told sixty-eight percent possession in the first half. It felt like eighty. Ramsdale looked shaky, but being honest, we looked up for it, from the first minute Miguel Almirón was pressing and pushing, Wilson’s pace was unsettling the back line. Loads of offside flags went up when we poured forward, but at the same time fifty million pound Ben White looked to commit an assault on Wilson. He was booked. Almirón almost pressured Ramsdale into putting it in his own net. But the goal wouldn’t come. We were superior in every aspect but just could not score.
The worry, as always, was that this domination would not pay. Arsenal had one chance in the first half where Saka stung the palms of Dúbravka but that was it. Saint Max having his best game in weeks did the same at the other end. Two players who have critics amongst the support but tonight showed that, with a strong team around them, they are able to perform at the level we know they can.
Second half started with Eddie Nketiah poleaxing Schär. I will admit I haven’t seen a replay, but in real time it was difficult to understand how it wasn’t a red card. If he was concussed from the contact or knocked out then surely that meets the threshold for endangering an opponent. Regardless, Eddie made the change and brought on Lascelles at the same time (roughly) that Arsenal made changes, bringing on Martinelli and looking to stretch the game.
Then came the moment the game had waited for. Joelinton was released down the left and ran away from Cedric pretty quickly, but he only had Wilson to aim for in the middle. The ball in was perfect, too far out for the keeper and bending towards our number 9. Ben White definitely got the final touch but it was great that Wilson scared them into it. A while later Wilson took a ball from a throw in, spun and hooked it towards goal. Ramsdale will tell you now he knew it was missing – he didn’t and neither did I in the East Stand. Chris Wood is a nice guy, he occupies defenders and he does a job. On nights like this Callum Wilson looks like the number 9 who would petrify every back line in the league. You forget when you haven’t seen him how good he is.
The best player on the park for Newcastle could have been anyone. Almirón harried, Maxi was far more engaged, the back line held firm against any and all attempts to score. Longstaff and Joelinton were tireless, but Bruno is a superstar. After the game I was saying to people, every time I see him he does something else I haven’t seen before to remind me just how good he is. If we’d paid ninety million you’d be talking about a bargain.
His goal to end the night wasn’t our best move but Longstaff did excellently to retrieve possession, spin his man and play in Wilson. Ramsdale was alert and cleared it, Bruno took his time when given the ball and fired it into the net. 2-0 and nobody could argue we didn’t deserve it.
The lap of honour was cheered to the rafters, in another remarkable turn of events the owners also joined in and walked around the pitch (with a sizeable member of security staff each). Amanda Staveley wore green (the Guardian will hate that) and could be seen saying “thank you” to the supporters before a squad and back room staff photo in front of the Gallowgate.
What a game! Put aside everything else and watch this, and you’d never have known which club was going for Champions League places. Jamie Carragher says we will bother them next season, we’ve already stolen Bruno … who else?
One day you will get your club back, a wise man once said. In 1992 that same man had led us from despair and by 1996 we were challenging for the biggest prize of all. Can we do that again?
The season started with Bruce and Ashley and a feeling that nobody could believe this club had any ambition at all. It ends (at home at least) with us fighting for top ten and like the sound system played at the end … “we’re moving on up now!”
Have a great summer everyone …. EI EI EI O!
Stephen Ord @smord84