A few minutes into this encounter, as Allan Saint-Maximin burst down the left, an inflatable pair of comedy testicles was hoisted aloft in the away end to laughter and applause. Little did we know how apt a choice of Clock End contraband would turn out to be, some 90 minutes later.
The fact is that Newcastle United under Steve Bruce (and, yes, Mike Ashley) are bollocks.
It all started reasonably brightly, with Valentino Lazaro winning hearts with a strong offensive performance and Danny ‘Cod and Chips’ Rose snapping into tackles. The first 20 minutes saw the Mags carve out a trio of good chances, with the aforementioned ASM tormenting Hector Bellerin. But when Joelinton toed one wide, you got the sense that it was (again) going to be one of those days.
Arsenal grew into the game but looked wasteful up top, ballooning a number of half chances over the bar from range. When Martin Dubravka was occasionally challenged, he was off his line quickly to gather through balls.
Half time came and the concourse was bouyant: keep Arteta’s side at bay and we could snatch one late on. The plan was working.
Of course, this theory is predicated on the fact that United do actually have a plan: a notion ripped up swiftly after the break as United collapsed, doubling the number of goals conceded here last term.
The defence fell apart with Arsenal’s attacking quartet slicing through at will, and worryingly we lost Ciaran Clark to a nasty looking challenge. Don’t expect to see him back any time soon.
Worth singling out for particular criticism was Nabil Bentaleb, who conspired to amble around and coughed up possession alarmingly regularly; and Sean Longstaff who again looked anonymous.
Pair this with a rudderless defensive shape (Jamaal Lascelles was uncharacteristically silent in leading a back line that worryingly seems to be believing his own hype) and you’ve got a recipe for the shellacking that infuriatingly came to pass.
This result is at Steve Bruce’s door: it was he who passed up the chance of signing a much-needed forward in the window, he who clearly mismanaged the half time team talk and he who allowed the squad five days off with the occasional swim session while rivals like Arsenal were at training camps. He is a manager out of time, perma-stuck in a bygone era.
That this result was overdue and predicted brings no comfort: based on this result, you have to question whether we are in fact as safe as we think. Where are the goals that are going to fire NUFC to safety?
Palace up next offers a chance to right things, but Bruce’s lack of a plan B is a real worry. New balls please.