So much in this club is fractious, decaying and depressing that the events on the pitch are a secondary concern, miserable form adding an extra strain of glum to the dreary desolate overall picture.
The protest outside the club’s resident Sports Direct store was the big story today. Pressure being increased on Mike Ashley in a terrible week for him that had prompted some petulant outbursts as his cash cow at SD starts to look decidedly unstable. Great timing by the Magpie group to crank up negative publicity then, with a display outside the ground sure have its numbers swelled due to passers by adding their voice to the chorus on their way to the ground.
Some people haven’t seen it like that unfortunately and I’ve seen potshots at the organisers, the group and the entire concept on social media. For my part I find it unacceptable that anyone could think the club can continue without a strategy to remove Ashley and the continuing efforts of this group are to be applauded and supported. If you disagree with the nature of the action join in the discussion, you’ll be welcome. Divisions among the fans will absolutely play into the hands of the ownership.
Inside the ground it’s different, weird even. There seems to be an agreed amnesty where support for Rafa and the team is priority, with anti-Ashley chants surfacing as the match progresses. Even then there is a sense that hearts aren’t in it as I personally can’t help but feel like everyone in there is sat thinking of something they’d rather be doing, possibly in preparation for a mass desertion next season.
The fact that we’ve had big, tough, horrible clubs in each of our three home openers has helped sour the milk a bit. Arsenal could be argued to be in transition in their first post-Wenger season and less of a threat than recent visitors, but they still had an ominously superior starting eleven.
First half was actually encouraging, as United caused me to regret not having a spread bet on the amount of corners gained. Despite some probing testing play to earn these, there was very little in the way of actual goal threats. When one corner was overhit, Yedlin’s fine return ball split the defence and allowed Murphy to power a header across goal. With two United players waiting for an easy finish, Cech dived to desperately shove the ball away, an action that would turn out to be the only thing he was needed to do today.
It’s fair to say Newcastle were better first half and controlled the game. Unfortunately, this was to be a classic game of two halves. This was almost certainly prompted by the withdrawal of the United captain at half time in an extremely worrying development.
I have seen some fine players act as conductors for Newcastle teams in the past, with the likes of Rob Lee and Yohan Cabaye capable of launching a stunning team performance if in form themselves, or seeing their own off days magnified by the rest of the side. However, I have never seen a team as Jekyll and Hyde as the current Newcastle team is, with or without Jamaal Lascelles.
Lascelles seems to act as superglue for the relative misfits in black and white. He can hold them together as a coherent unit to an impressive extent, but take him out and the implosion is spectacular, as evidenced within the confines of a single game today. I’m sure people will say this is not the decisive factor I’m building it up to be, but look at our record last season with/without him.
Anyway, the rejigged set-up never got going, invited pressure and allowed Arsenal to take the lead within four minutes. To be fair, Xhaka’s free kick was an excellent effort into the top corner, although Dubravka seemed to get tantalising close.
There were mutterings against Rafa here, as our most likely attacking threats of Shelvey and Rondon remained ensconced in the sub shack as the game drifted away. Arsenal passed us to death and Lacazette’s blocked effort broke to Ozil who made it 2-0.
Kenedy appeared from the bench to little acclaim and I was unsure whether this was a critique of his ill-advised remarks about hoping to win things back at Chelsea soon, or a reflection of the general apathy around the place. Muto looked OK after replacing Ritchie, contributing for Perez to cross onto Joselu’s head, forcing a sharp save from Cech.
Shamefully and in lieu of the unemployed talent on the bench, it was our two centre halves who combined to score a canny goal, Fernandez producing a great cross for Clark to bullet header past Cech. It was already injury time though and we had no chance.
There’s two ways of looking at this.
Four defeats from five but no humiliation against top six mainstays in spite of our meagre means, you could look forward and say the season starts next week as the fixture list starts to look less ominous.
If you were feeling pessimistic, which I bet you probably are, you could say we’re in the middle of a club wide black cloud that can’t be lifted and is certain to translate onto the pitch. We’ll know soon, but it already feels like we’re embroiled in more than one fight.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2
Newcastle: Clark 90+1
Arsenal: Xhaka 49, Ozil 58
Possession was Arsenal 64% Newcastle 36%
Total shots were Arsenal 12 Newcastle 4
Shots on target were Arsenal 2 Newcastle 2
Corners were Arsenal 4 Newcastle 10
Referee: Lee Probert
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles (Clark 46), Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie (Muto 79), Diame, Hayden, Murphy (Kenedy 69), Perez, Joselu
Darlow, Manquillo, Rondon, Shelvey
Crowd: 52,165 (3,200 Arsenal approx)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2 – Read HERE)
(A third relegation in 10 years on the cards? Read HERE)
(Phil Thompson had some strong views on the match – Read HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf