Sunday finished Newcastle 2 Arsenal 1.
Rafa’s team going behind after 14 minutes, only to fight back and win thanks to goals from Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie.
A game where Newcastle surrendered much of the possession but Martin Dubravka had few saves to make, with in fact NUFC increasingly threatening on the counter-attack as the game went on – actually having four efforts on target to Arsenal’s three over the course of the 90 minutes.
The Editor asked me beforehand to write about 3 positives and 3 negatives from the game.
One Nil Down, Two One Up
On Sunday, it was the ninth time this season that Newcastle had gone behind at St James Park in the Premier League.
The other eight times had produced six defeat and two draws (Liverpool and Swansea) but this time it was a famous victory, showing great character to regroup and come back to deservedly win.
This makes it two victories for Newcastle from losing positions overall, as NUFC went an early goal down at West Ham in December before eventually winning 3-2.
In under 30 minutes the Algerian striker showed us what we have been missing all season up front.
Considering he still doesn’t look fully match fit, no surprise after being out so long, he was fantastic. It leaves Newcastle fans wondering what could have been possible if Rafa had been backed with the recognised goalscorer he wanted last summer.
Dwight Gayle is a good striker and we need to keep him as well – but not with the main responsibility for goals.
Slimani had the Arsenal defence all over place with his power, direct running and unselfish play to set up both the winning goal AND two other chances when Kenedy hit the bar and Perez should have done better with another opportunity.
Release The Real Mohamed Diame
Fair to say that not since Cheick Tiote have we seen a Newcastle midfielder upset the opposition.
He got man of the match in our fan poll and no wonder, as he was everywhere, plus he is a little bit more subtle than Tiote was in leaving his foot in a bit to let them know he’s there.
It warps your mind just a bit when you keep telling yourself that Mohamed Diame is actually our best player, certainly over the last couple of months. After what went before, it just doesn’t seem possible.
I keep reading about how great our atmosphere is at St James Park but it isn’t what I see/experience a lot of the time.
At times it is very very good but it is really an all or nothing thing now.
The first half against Arsenal, probably even up to the hour mark, was played out to a very quiet crowd, the 1.30pm kick-off not helping. With Newcastle sitting back, there was nothing to get the crowd going and whilst the Perez goal did spark things for a couple of minutes, as the team didn’t then take that as an opportunity to press, the crowd retreated as well to near silence.
However, the last half hour WAS excellent. Even before the winner, the crowd responded to the introduction of Slimani and a bit more attacking intent, with pretty much everybody joining in to ensure a cracking last 30 minutes both on and off the pitch.
There is no shame in being truthful talking about when the atmosphere is good AND bad.
They Are Not Ours…Yet
This uplift in form has been achieved with a big helping hand from Martin Dubravka, Kenedy, and now, Islam Slimani.
The win over Arsenal saw all three loan players contribute to the victory.
However, looking ahead to next season, just to have the level of team/squad that we are now enjoying watching, we need to see these three players tied down to permanent transfers, or signings of an equivalent level.
There is no way Newcastle would have been on 41 points now without this January injection of quality and Rafa made clear last summer that this kind of quality was needed.
Here’s hoping these early signings will be made ASAP.
Every Positive Brings A Negative
As Newcastle have improved with results and performances, it is also guaranteed to bring one other thing.
Yes, speculation about the futures of Rafa Benitez and Newcastle’s key players.
I’m afraid until we reach a point where Newcastle aren’t seen as just an also-ran, we will continue to be seen as a feeder club for the top six.
Rafa Benitez can change that if given the chance that and ensure that there is no compelling reason why any player should want to leave.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 2 Arsenal 1
Newcastle: Perez 29, Ritchie 68
Arsenal: Lacazette 14
Possession was Arsenal 72% Newcastle 28%
Total shots were Arsenal 15 Newcastle 8
Shots on target were Arsenal 3 Newcastle 4
Corners were Arsenal 5 Newcastle 2
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie (Murphy 86), Shelvey, Kenedy, Perez (Joselu 79), Gayle (Slimani 63))
Darlow, Manquillo, Clark, Hayden
Crowd: 52,210 (2,700 Arsenal approx)
(Alan Shearer revels in Newcastle win and has Piers Morgan and other Arsenal fans biting – Read HERE)
(United fan/writer instant reaction to the 2-1 victory – Read it HERE)
(Match ratings of all NUFC players after beating Arsenal – Read HERE)
(Arsene Wenger says Newcastle didn’t even deserve a point…Read HERE)
(Rafa Benitez reaction after final whistle – Read HERE)
(Garth Crooks revisits ‘Rafa could win Premier League with Newcastle’ comments – Read HERE)
(Mohamed Diame talks through the win over Arsenal and reaching PL safety – Read it HERE)