F.A. Cup Round 3: Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 0

Newcastle United produced a brilliant away performance at high-flying Arsenal who were unbeaten for an entire season only sixteen years ago. If we discount extra time then United got a point away at the PL giants who are handily placed for a tilt at the league title sitting in eleventh place in the table at the minute.

Steve Bruce has every right to be overjoyed with a performance that came, in his own words, after “a tough run of fixtures” and his players will no doubt be inspired for the next game, at hard-working tricky customers Sheff United, by their manager’s inspirational “we dust ourselves down and go again” fighting talk. Sheff United are certainly in a false position and the fact they have two points from seventeen games means that this fixture will be no walk over, that’s for sure.

Aye, that’s all horse shit, isn’t it? Anyone who watched that tonight and thought United were unlucky because the Arsenal goals came in extra-time and Il Bensham Codino missed a sitter was watching a different game to me. What I saw was around 109 minutes of a game that made me question why TV companies around the world pay such vast sums of money to show the Premier League. It was so utterly boring that I found myself more entertained by reading the Arsenal flags in the stands that had a message, and then ‘Visit Rwanda’ underneath. My favourite was ‘C’mon you Gunners. Visit Rwanda’ which got me thinking of a Newcastle equivalent under Mike Ashley, ‘Howay the Lads. Visit Clacton’ anyone?

Anyway, much like my brain during the game, I digress. United started with Joelinton up top, rather than Wilson or Gayle, and with five at the back. Given that United have won twice in 24 games with five at the back under Bruce, and that Joelinton is a centre-forward who does not offer any attacking threat whatsoever, the tactics seemed to be ‘let’s hope for the best’.

Arsenal were not good and are mid-table in the Premier League. They have wonderful talent but do not create many chances. They are a young team in transition and they are beatable. Arteta, resplendent with his plastic hair, does seem to have a plan and the future may well be bright, but this is not an Arsenal side to fear.

However, despite a couple of chances, notably the aforementioned Carroll one, it always felt like the Gooners were in control. They deserved the victory and you know what’s really sad about it? That Steve Bruce would have looked at that performance and the fact it was 0-0 after 90 minutes and considered it as ‘good’. He stated post-match, “I couldn’t be more pleased with how they’ve gone about it” despite the fact it was a 2-0 defeat in a game where our centre-forward Andy Carroll was probably our best player due to booming defensive heeders. Our other top performer was our keeper and seeing Dubravka back was a boost because LORD KNAS we rely on our keepers a fair bit. Elliott Anderson coming on and making his debut was another positive moment, seeing a young Geordie make his debut will never not make me feel a little jolt of pride. Apart from that though, the only other positive is that United weren’t as shit as they have been lately, meaning an improvement in performance, which does not automatically equate it as a good one.

And this is the problem I have with the loss. Not that it was 2-0 away to a fellow Premier League team, of course not. The issue is the fact that it is taken as being acceptable, as a good performance, as an improvement. It was none of those, yet we will be told it was. Just like we’re being told Bruce is doing a good job despite the fact we’re fifteenth in the table, have scored 2 goals in 6, create a pathetically low amount of chances and are so utterly turgid to watch.

The two cup runs under Bruce have masked the gaping deficiencies and the regression that has been on-going from day one. Both cup runs were achieved without beating another Premier League side and the moment United came up against one, they lost. United lost against Leicester in the League Cup at the first hurdle last year, as they have to Arsenal this year. Now we know for sure the remit is to ‘not get relegated’ then we might as well get used to the fact that a limp defeat against an ok team that did not have to put too much in was fine. If Steve couldn’t be more pleased, then why shouldn’t we? Roll on Sheff United where anything less than a win will be a failure, regardless of how it might be spun after the event.

Norman Riley