Newcastle United did ok in the first half on Saturday.
The better team before the break and a succession of corners giving hope of a goal.
Never really looked like scoring but on the other hand, Martin Dubravka hadn’t had a save to make either.
Arsenal couldn’t surely be as bad as they were in that first half and so it proved.
Torreira came off the bench and started to get the Gunners playing some football but Newcastle’s collapse was far more dramatic than any upturn in Arsenal’s football.
A goal does of course give confidence and belief, then to have Ozil follow up only nine minutes later with the killer second, it was game over and the visitors could enjoy themselves.
Managers always say that conceding a goal is not a disaster in most circumstances BUT then leaking a second one quickly is a cardinal sin.
So it proved on Saturday, when conceding you need your players to stand up and be counted, to make sure that whatever happens you don’t go two behind and pretty much ensure you are going to lose.
As soon as Xhaka’s free-kick hit the back of the next, Newcastle went to pieces. Nobody took responsibility whether we had possession or not and it was obvious that a second goal was inevitable.
Of course, once they did go 2-0 up, Arsenal predictably did step off the gas a bit and cruised to victory, this maybe gave some people the illusion that we were back in the match a little bit.
The truth of course was that Newcastle weren’t, nervous in possession and clueless as to how to create/score a goal to get us back into the game, at te back we also looked very suspect when Arsenal rapidly counter-attacked.
Maybe the defining thing for me is that after Jamaal Lascelles went off, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to who took over as captain, based purely on what I was watching.
The word that springs to my mind on Saturday is ‘spineless’, for two different reasons.
I think there was definitely a lack of fight/effort from some players, certainly once going a goal down. When I talk about fight and effort I don’t just mean in terms of running about and putting tackles in etc, to me it also encompasses players being prepared to take responsibility and keep the ball, try to create and inspire those around them.
I would also use ‘spineless’ in terms of the whole structure of the team. It is usually accepted that getting the spine of any team right, is essential before you can achieve anything.
Last season, safety was achieved once Rafa Benitez was able to put Dubravka on the pitch, behind central defenders Lascelles and Lejeune, who in turn had Shelvey and Diame in front of them, then Dwight Gayle putting himself about up front, his running unsettling the opposition even if goals were a rarity for the striker.
Of course we did have Dubravka on Saturday and he did ok, though maybe could have done better with the two goals, based on his own high standards.
However, once Lascelles went off, we had Fernandez and Clark, Diame and Hayden, with Joselu up front.
I’m sorry but that set-up was never ever going to be good enough once Arsenal woke up AND they aren’t even that good, top six at a push but no way they will be in the Champions League places.
Diame was left trying to do everything with Hayden the worst player on the pitch, whilst Joselu is simply nowhere near good enough. Clark is a decent squad player but with Lascelles going off, it is a huge drop in ability/influence.
I like Fernandez and think he is a decent signing but he can/could only do so much.
Starting at Palace, we have to get the spine of the team right, assuming Lascelles shakes off his twisted ankle picked up on Saturday, if we have him and Fernandez in front of Dubravka, Shelvey back in alongside Diame, and Rondon up front, Newcastle will have something to build on.
Solid partnership at the back with the keeper and centre-backs, Shelvey always happy to get on the ball and Diame allowed then to do what he does best in tidying up and pressurising, whilst Rondon can give that essential threat and focus of attack.
The way the team folded against Arsenal and not enough players assumed responsibility, was totally unacceptable.
Character and discipline were the main ingredients in the relative success of last season and we need the same again if on the pitch disaster has any choice of being avoided this time.