Hmmmm. That didn’t go to plan, albeit it was no disaster. An opportunity missed but there will be others. Ryan Gray was at SJP yesterday and, surrounded by jubilant Gunners (those who weren’t ejected early for being in the home end), put together this week’s Five things we learned…
- We’re not shithousing enough
Many a pearl has been clutched over Newcastle’s use of “dark arts” from pundits and opponents this season, but Arsenal showed how it’s really done, turning the shithousing up to unbearable levels.
Our players hated being on the end of it and it proved really effective.
After their goal, the visitors smothered any hint of home momentum with fake injuries, baseless shoving matches and cleverly timed subs. It turned St James’ from a bubbling cauldron into a simmering pan that occasionally rumbled and spat.
Most home fans were angered by the antics, but I watched on with envy. I’d love to see us doing that against tricky teams next season, instead of being on the receiving end.
After all, we’ve adopted Eddie Howe’s line about prioritising competition over popularity as a mantra, so much so that it hangs in the Gallowgate. We can’t then moan when other teams arrive and don’t meekly roll over.
- Leading with your trump card leaves you empty handed
Watching either Callum Wilson or Alexander Isak come off the bench to combine effectively with the other has been a glorious sight in recent matches. It was, therefore, inevitable the pair would start together at some point.
While I loved the attacking intent shown by Eddie Howe in trying it against Arsenal, it left us with little in the way of game changers on the bench.
Relying on a recently recovered Allan Saint-Maximin, the still adapting Anthony Gordon, and Miggy Almirón to turn things around was a big gamble. It served to re-enforce how much we need to invest in players who are ready to perform as soon as they arrive this summer.
- You’ve got to take your chances
It’s a huge cliché, but not taking chances in games like this is criminal. It’s never easy coming away with a defeat, but it’s made much harder when there are “what ifs” to dwell on.
What if Jacob Murphy had wrapped his instep around the ball just a fraction more? What if Joe Willock had shown a touch more composure? What if Fabian Schär had headed either side of Aaron Ramsdale instead of straight at him?
Against stronger opponents, the big chances increase in rarity, and missing them becomes ever more costly. Against Arsenal, it cost us dearly – and it’s not the first time this campaign.
Even a cursory glance at the games that have finished in a draw this season reveals a plethora of big chances gone begging. If we are to make competing at the top end of the table a habit rather than a one off, the aim needs to be much steadier from those up front.
- Sean Longstaff is currently irreplaceable
A player’s true value can sometimes be revealed not by watching how they perform on the pitch, but by seeing how well the rest of the team does in their absence. With that in mind, Sean Longstaff is worth his weight in gold.
Defensively, Bruno Guimarães really struggled to get to grips with Martin Ødegaard, while Joelinton was charged with trying to keep a lid on Granit Xhaka, which he wasn’t able to do with any great effect.
Longstaff’s work-rate was sorely missed and him being in the centre allows the likes of Bruno, Joelinton and Willock to play to their strengths, rather than trying to reproduce the often unnoticed, yet hugely important, contribution that their absent colleague provides.
- The project is still very much on track
Although we were beaten, it was by a side who have spent the majority of this season at the top of the league, and whose fans were dreading a trip to St James’ Park. It shows how far we’ve come in such a short space of time.
Compare it to the circumstances surrounding last year’s end-of-season fixture against the same opponents, where we went into the game as plucky and resurgent underdogs, and it’s clear that we’re now much closer to being seen as equals than as relegation fodder.
Clever investment and continued managerial genius from Howe will only keep us going in the same direction and it’s genuinely exciting to think how much further we could go.
What’s more, the women’s team’s promotion provides further evidence that all aspects of this club are on the up after years of neglect.
Ryan Gray (@RyanJGray89)