A warm evening greeted Rafas Mags as they touched down in the allegedly recently liberated capital, following some form of mass invasion of Gatesheads nearest rivals.
The Emirates Stadium has not been happy hunting ground for Newcastle having managed just one victory there since its opening, however heading up to the ground there was an air of optimism that Newcastle having upset Manchester City in recent months could be the team that put the brakes on an Arsenal team that has flown under the radar to squeeze themselves into 3rd place.
Rafa opted to restore captain Jamal Lascelles to the starting 11 at the expense of Ferderico Fernandez, who may feel slightly aggrieved given how solid he has been for us this season. Aside from that it was the same group who grabbed the point at Bournemouth.
For the most part this was a fairly standard Newcastle away performance against one of the top sides in the league under Rafa Benitez. The opening ten minutes saw United defending and frustrating the opposition in typical fashion. Aside from a disallowed goal from Juventus bound Aaron Ramsey I’d struggle to call out any shot on target from either side. However by the 30 minute mark Ramsey would find himself in a similar situation after an unfavourable bounce off DeAndre Yedlin and would slot home on this occasion to make it 1-0 to Arsenal.
It’s probably fair to say Yedlin had one of his poorer nights for Newcastle, I like Yedilin a lot and believe Rafa has improved him ten times over from the player that struggled quite severely at times for league ones 4th best side. However, some of his decision making was off when he needed to clear he was letting the ball run, when he needed to let the ball run he was trying to clear and ultimately ended up playing us in into trouble a fair bit. Although not number 1 priority I can understand why Rafa feels the need for great competition in this are of the pitch.
Almost immediately following their goal Rondon would have a chance to make 1-1 with what I think was literally our only chance in the first half. He did really well to get into the position he did using his strength and energy that we’ve be accustomed to.
Newcastle then spent the remaining minutes of the 2nd half penned back in our own half, we struggled to move the ball from defence into attack as effectively as we have done in previous games. We clearly missed Schar tonight and depended massively on Lejune to get the ball towards Perez, Almiron, and Rondon. This is no criticism of Diame and Hayden both have played their roles magnificently and much better than I think any Newcastle fan would of expected this season particularly but Rafa needs to bring in a top centre midfielder in the Summer we’ve become very route one at times and could do with improving that transition from defence to attack. Shelvey could be that player but question marks remain as to whether athletically he can work in in the current system. Alas this route one style meant that the 3 amigos up top spent a lot of time chasing down balls which just wasn’t effective for us. The only remaining highlight of the half was seeing Matt Ritchie provide a last ditch header to prevent Alexander Lacazette doubling the gunners tally.
Perez seems to struggle when the team is struggling, he’s very good in the box and when we see more of the ball. However he isn’t blessed with huge amounts of pace so chasing balls down just isn’t his game for me and I though he had a poor night by his recent standards.
Almiron had a few good runs from deep which was good to see in the second half, he’s still adapting and will be a better player for us next year. Rondon gave his typical gladiator style performance upfront in fairly thankless role.
Benitez introduced Ki to replace Hayden, Kenedy for Ritchie, and Muto for Perez, none really made much of an impact on the game Ki managed a shot from the edge of the box following a well worked move, but it went sailing over the cross bar. United rallied somewhat and being an eternal optimist I did think we’d grab the goal we needed in the dying minutes but the final nail in the coffin of a frustrating night was hammered in by Lacazette with only few minutes to go from that point it could have got much worse thankfully it didn’t. Arsenal were the better side on the night.
With regards to the trip, I’ve got to say Arsenal is by far the worst away game and ground I’ve been to. There is no atmosphere from the home fans beyond shouting Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal when prompted by their big screens – yes that’s a thing now. The away end was subdued and quite negative compared to normal though I suspect the Monday night kick off in part contributed to that.
And that makes two things we can be certain of for Palace, the atmosphere will be much better and the performance of Newcastle will be too.