Attendance: Officially 59.379. Definitely wasn’t unless 2000+ people were dressed as seats.

A day that started with a lovely meander through Angel and a few decent ales ended in the disappointment of an eighth defeat in nine games for Rafa’s Mags. Along with wins for West Ham and Crystal Palace, failure to avoid defeat saw NUFC slip in to the bottom 3 for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

On arrival at the concourse in the Clock End I was surprised at how peaceful it all seemed. Didn’t have to queue for my piss-flat, over-priced and miserable mass-produced cider, got a nice section of urinal all to myself and didn’t see anyone lob plastic pint glasses in to crowds of people.

A lingering air of resignation or just a collective unconscious lethargy brought on by being in another football stadium selling UTTERLY SHITE BEER?

Five changes to the side that lost at home to Everton on Wednesday saw Elliott in for Darlow, Joselu in for Gayle, Murphyfor Ritchie, Hayden for the suspended Shelvey and Pérez for Diamé.

A fairly uneventful opening 20 odd minutes saw us sitting deep and attempting to counter and this was working just fine. Arsenal hadn’t created anything of note and the absolute apathy of their fans seemed to rub off on their players (or maybe it was the other way around).

And then they scored.

Özil will rightly take the plaudits for a beautiful connection of foot to ball which saw him volley one straight in to the middle of the NUFC goal and the back of the net. However, the frustrating aspect of it was the fact that, as seems to have happened on numerous occasions lately, the defence looked like it’d done enough to get the ball cleared but the player (on this occasion Lejeune) hasn’t got enough on the clearance. Özil did what he did and, unfortunately, with a team whose confidence is as brittle as NUFC’s is at present, it was always going to be difficult to get something from the game after going a goal down.

The first-half almost petered out. I recall looking at the countdown clock and thinking the game was going very slowly. Arsenal didn’t look particularly busy and it looked like Newcastle weren’t going to commit to pushing for an equaliser due to the fear of falling further behind before the break.

The second-half followed a similar pattern to the first. A quiet stadium, two teams on the pitch not really offering much to arouse passions and a sideways rain ensuring that the MOTD highlights will be lucky to stretch to more than 60 seconds.

Then suddenly with around 20 minutes to go the Arsenal lads started looking a little fragile. For all their possession, they hadn’t really threatened, save a decent stop from Rob Elliott not long after the break, and they seemed to be gripped by a little fear that they were too close to the end to risk going for a second and leaving themselves exposed.

Matt Ritchie, on as a sub, started really impacting on the game. Murphy forced a good save out of Cech, Merino had a deflected shot that flashed just past the post and Pérez has a couple of close efforts. Unfortunately, the equaliser never came, the final whistle went after 4 minutes injury-time and the winless run extended to 9 matches.

However, I walked away thinking that the performance wasn’t as discouraging as the stats might suggest (Arsenal having a huge 71% of the possession) and for me this was the closest the side has been to the pragmatic and functional football that served us so well up to and including October 21st (the day Palace were defeated). We were competitive and the players grafted to keep it tight. Having Lascelles back in the side makes an obvious difference (I believe we haven’t conceded more than 1 goal in a game whilst he’s been on the pitch) and Ritchie was positive when coming off the bench. Additionally, Merino and Hayden worked fairly well together in the centre of the pitch and there were signs of life.

We could’ve snatched a point and I have to take solace in that. We’re in a massive battle to survive, clearly, and we’re obviously desperate for new signings. How much money Benítez will have and who might be giving him it is something that we can only speculate on right now. All I do believe is that, regardless of who might arrive and what might happen, I can’t think that there are many managers who could do significantly better with what Benítez has to work with. West Ham away is huge (they’re all huge when you’re in the bottom 3 I guess) and all that can be done at this point is to continue backing the team. Howay the Lads.

NORMAN RILEY – Follow Norman on @likethegoat 

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