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Rafa Benitez would have to be a mug to sign this new Mike Ashley contract

5 months ago
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If ever a game summed up what it is like watching a team that has nothing to play for come the end of the football season then Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 was it.

Newcastle never got out of second never mind third gear. As expected, Benitez had his troops set up defensively, but in truth, the team didn’t make much of an effort to give Arsenal a game, or even cross the halfway line.

While it was one of those nights that makes you think ‘what was the point in going?’ – once again, as in most cases with the NUFC fanbase, the reaction has been completely OTT. “The tactics are all wrong… Should Lascelles be dropped… this team is so poor.”

It was one game and it was against a very good team.

The Game

I normally have quite a lot to say about the game itself but on this occasion there really wasn’t much to write home about. It also didn’t help that being stood in row 6 of the Emirates offers you one of the worst vantage points in the Premier League.

The game started off as you would expect with Arsenal dominating possession and Newcastle essentially parking the bus on the edge of their own 18 yard line for the most part. I don’t think we had even crossed the halfway line by the time Arsenal had a goal disallowed on the 12th minute.

I think by the time we did cross the halfway line, we were already 1-0 down. Rondon had a half chance that didn’t come to anything. Arsenal’s first goal was fairly easy, with Ramsey finishing well from close range. Newcastle looked tired in the middle of midfield, with Ramsey and Guendouzi dominating the game from start to finish.

While Mo Diame looks as if he most certainly reached his NUFC peak at this time last year, Issac Hayden looked very tired. I would say that he could do with a rest but I don’t think there is anyone to replace him in there.

With Diame’s contract running down, Hayden likely to go, and strong rumours that Jonjo Shelvey will be off in the summer, that leaves us with one centre midfielder in Ki. Sean Longstaff will be back in the summer but lets not put even more pressure on a 21 year old with around 10 senior games to his name.

The second half was more of the same with Newcastle creating absolutely nothing and Arsenal on the front foot. Both Almiron and Perez had no impact at all on the game. Almiron, while he looked decent with his first touch, invariably let himself down with a poor second touch or a heavy third touch. As for Perez, he was anonymous, which will have likely been a disappointment to the watching Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Man City and PSG scouts who are definitely interested in him.

Benitez brought on Ki, Kenedy and Muto to try and mix things up but they had no impact on the game at all. Arsenal eventually wrapped the game up in what was a run of the mill victory for them.

Quite a few people have said it was the poorest display of 2019 but it was only a few weeks ago that Newcastle were easily rolled over against a West Ham side that were nowhere near as good as Arsenal… and have we not forgotten that this is a side who were luckily to scrape through the 3rd round of the FA Cup against Blackburn over two games.

Again, it comes back to my point that fans and journalists are very quick to come out with these phrases like “worst performances ever… or worst player ever” without even thinking, or taking into account any context at all.

Rafa Benitez

I saw a few comments afterwards from people who said that Rafa had picked the wrong team etc but I am not sure what he could have done differently?

Could he have played a different striker? No. Muto over Perez/Almiron? Unlikely. Maybe Ki could have played yes, but apart from that the back five plus Dubravka picks itself at the moment.

I am not the manager, but for these last few games I would really love it for Rafa to go back to four at the back, play Almiron in his best position at no.10, try to play some football and try to win some football matches. I know that won’t happen but I have a feeling there is a few who would agree with me on that one.

So my only criticism is that with nothing to play for, on a Monday night, in London, it would have been nice for him to set the team up in a way that actually made an effort to win the game.

At this stage, looking at the squad, the players that are likely to leave coupled with the huge amount of investment that is needed in the playing squad (as well as every single other area of the club)… I think Benitez would have to be a mug to sign a new contract under Mike Ashley.

The Fans

I think the attitude of the team was reflected in the stands. Although I will say that the Emirates is one of the worst stadiums in the UK for creating an atmosphere. It never helps when the home stands are filled with thousands of empty seats.

As for us, the away support was rather flat. You can’t blame them though considering what they were watching on the pitch during a cold night in North London.

Last bit

A poor performance yes, but an expected defeat against a top side who are third in the league, 1/8 of the UEFA Cup and in truth an awful lot better than us.

I think there has been a lot of moaning and groaning over not a lot in regard to the performance.

If half of the fans put as much anger and effort into criticising Mike Ashley than they do overreacting to a 2-0 defeat away at at Arsenal then we might begin to have a decent club on our hands…

Stats from BBC Sport:

Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0

Goals:

Arsenal:

Ramsey 30, Lacazette 83

Possession was Arsenal 71% Newcastle 29%

Total shots were Arsenal 7 Newcastle 3

Shots on target were Arsenal 4 Newcastle 1

Corners were Arsenal 6 Newcastle 2

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Dummett, Lejeune, Ritchie (Kenedy 75), Hayden (Ki 67), Diame, Almiron, Perez (Muto 77), Rondon

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Manquillo, Shelvey, Fernandez

Crowd: 59,869 (though obviously nowhere near that in the stadium with thousands and thousands of empty seats)

(Rafa Benitez post-match verdict – Newcastle have to spend up to £75m on forward positions – Read HERE)

(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the match HERE)

(Rafa’s team outclassed but not disgraced – Read HERE)

You can follow the author on Twitter @_jonathandc

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