London away games are my favourite as it’s a straight journey down on the train from the Toon, which gives you plenty of time to chat, catch up with friends, have a few beers and eat food. The Dolphin is the usual choice of pub in London, before making our way up to North London. (For any fans going to West Ham next week, as someone who has spent the past 3 years in London, give Bierschenke outside Liverpool Street a try before making your way up to Stratford).
Obviously a great day is always cut short by Newcastle getting beat. That is eight defeats in nine now which is bordering on embarrassing. I don’t doubt that if we were managed by a Pardew, McClaren or Carver then there would be many a fan getting on their back and calling for their heads. However, I like to think that most of us see the bigger picture right now. There is an impending takeover, and Rafa Benitez is the best manager out there for us, irrespective of some of the mistakes we all know he is making.
It is almost surreal to think that this time 10 years ago, I was sat a row in front of Mike Ashley at the Emirates, watching a Newcastle side managed by Kevin Keegan. Then, the life of a Newcastle fan was a somewhat happier one.
Going into the game, a few of us were in the mindset of lets just try and stay in the game. There is nothing worse than travelling all that way to be 2-0 down and out of the game by the half hour mark. On the other hand, you would be a fool to be expecting Newcastle to come away with anything from the game.
We were on the backfoot from the word go – although Jamaal Lascelles did have a half chance to put us in front, he headed straight at Petr Cech. From then on though, it was all Arsenal. I don’t often make comments on other teams’ players on here, but Maitland-Niles nearly put Arsenal in front with a great run, and he caused lots of problems from the left wing-back position all day. I don’t know much about Arsenal’s injury situation at the moment, but he looks like strong, versatile, athletic player that I would love to take on loan in January.
Despite our backs being against the wall, we weren’t exactly being carved open by the Arsenal attacking line, and with Lascelles back in the squad we looked more comfortable in our last line of defence. Our main problem was that when we did get the ball: (1) we didn’t know what to do with it (2) our passing was nothing short of atrocious (3) we were so deep in our own half that we couldn’t get up the pitch quick enough.
Arsenal may have scored from a wonderful strike from Ozil but it certainly could have been avoided. Lee Ryder got abit of stick on twitter for calling it a soft goal – I do see where he was coming from. If you weren’t at the game, then you wouldn’t have seen the passage of play that led to the goal.
Newcastle gave away the ball sloppily in the middle of the park through Perez, as he tried to beat his man with a little flick instead of just putting his foot on the ball. Then Yedlin failed to deal properly with a cross, finally Lejeune headed the ball straight into Ozil’s path (granted nobody expected him to do what he did). I might be being harsh, but I also think Elliott could have done better, obviously he could do nothing about Ozil’s strike, but could he have been more assertive and came for the ball while it was hanging in the air before Lejeune’s header? I think so.
There wasn’t much of a response from Newcastle, and in truth, just like the Everton game, we never looked like scoring. Matt Ritchie came on for Atsu, which seemed to spark us into life a little bit. I don’t think that this was the type of game that suited Atsu, he struggled to get onto the ball, and whenever he did gain possession, he found himself too far away from the opposition goal to do anything meaningful with it.
Arsenal should have wrapped the game up with 15 minutes to go through Jack Wilshere but he put his shot straight at Elliott. That chance seemed to give Newcastle some renewed hope and from that point until the end of the game, it was all Newcastle. We actually did look like scoring!
Ayoze Perez, who was poor once again, had two great chances, especially a late free header, but he failed to put either of them anywhere near the target! Joselu did look like he might have got us an equaliser but his shot just deflected wide.
It was an urgent end, to what was otherwise a very lethargic display. The side lacks real impetus in all areas of the pitch. We are desperate for new signings in January.
Rafa made a few changes to the team that got beat against Everton and most of them I agreed with. I was pleased to see Elliott come back in for Darlow. I also felt like Ritchie needed some time out of the side. He has been poor this season for me. Obviously not on the same scale as a Diame or Perez, but at many a time this season, his quality has been severely lacking (yes you can’t knock his effort and what he brings defensively).
Perez came in for Diame. I don’t rate either of them to be honest. More than anything in January, I think the need for a number 10 is key. To my surprise, Joselu also came back into the line up… and even more to my surprise, I actually think he played pretty well. He held the ball up well, won plenty of flick-ons and nearly scored.
With Hayden and Merino in the middle of the pitch (rather than Merino and Shelvey) we did look more competitive against a superior side. It is just when we are in possession that we don’t look like doing much in the middle of the pitch. For the moment, I would stick with those two instead to Shelvey.
The official attendance was apparently around 59,000 but there definitely wasn’t anywhere near close to that in the ground! 55,000 would have been generous considering there was an incredible amount of empty seats in the upper tier of the home end. I do find it amazing how Arsenal’s support can be so bad. A once great club not so long ago, they are the pitiful embodiment of everything that is wrong with modern football today.
Why some people like going to the Emirates is beyond me – a stadium with no atmosphere, oversized seats, expensive beer and too many football tourists for me. Even in the away end, on this particular day, there was a few too many fans taking pictures during the game, or videoing free-kicks, for my liking – but each to their own!
Throughout the game, the fans voiced their discontent towards Ashley. It was those anti-Ashley songs which received the loudest chorus on what was a wet and cold day.
As far as the away support goes, I don’t think there can be any doubt about their support for the manager. On the train down to London we all had our debates about what Rafa was doing wrong, in regards to team selection or the way he talks in press conferences. However, as one of those faces who is always there in the away end, there is no doubt that the vast majority of us are right behind the manager.
There is a lot of talk about the need for new signings and that is obvious, but it is important to remember that this squad we have now still has to play West Ham, Brighton and Stoke before the window opens (and Swansea on the 13th), so there is plenty work for Rafa in the meantime.
We are in for a right old slog until the end of the season, regardless of the takeover, so we all just have to keep getting behind the team.
For the moment, the day it is announced that Mike Ashley is leaving Newcastle United just can’t come quick enough.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Arsenal 1 Newcastle 0
Arsenal: Ozil 23
Possession was Arsenal 71% Newcastle 29%
Total shots were Arsenal 23 Newcastle 10
Shots on target were Arsenal 5 Newcastle 2
Corners were Arsenal 7 Newcastle 5
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Manquillo, Murphy (Gayle 67), Hayden, Merino (Diame 82), Atsu (Ritchie 54), Perez, Joselu
Darlow, Clark, Dummett, Aarons
Crowd: 59,379 (Newcastle 3,000)
(Method in the madness of Rafa’s team selection – Read HERE)
(To read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s match, go HERE)
(Newcastle in bottom three after Saturday results, read HERE)
You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn