‘It promised to be enthralling. And it was. Just not for them.’
One of the many oddities you get used to supporting Newcastle United is that the last home game of the season usually throws up something memorable.
My memory of it started with a 3-1 win over Brighton, with Keegan, Waddle and Beardsley all scoring, Beardsley’s a goal of the season. Roll through Leicester 7-1, Forest 5-0, Spurs 5-1 and even last season, the last home game of the season was the first game post-covid and even though it was rubbish, it was great to be back at SJP.
This year, Arsenal had to win to stay ahead in the race for the last Champions League spot. It promised to be enthralling. And it was. Just not for them.
The Gunners had a few injury problems in defence after their duffing in the North London derby on Thursday. It didn’t affect their team so much to me, they aren’t a team full of stars any more. Mikel Arteta seemingly not able to handle what are officially called “big dressing room personalities”, instead focussing on youth. Amongst the changes, More Than A Woman left back Tavares came in, allowing me to tell that joke which I have been waiting for all season. I could have said Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel but Arsenal were missing a lot more than that. For NUFC, there was no pop trivia. Callum Wilson, refusing to change his first name to Jackie for the purposes of this article, came in for Roy Wood.
After the owner related hullabaloo of this week, I half expected the players to come out on thrones carried by Iranian slave children wearing ‘Bomb Yemen’ t-shirts but no, it was all a regulation pre-match parade. Arsenal still had players who could play and looked a threat going forward. Smith-Rowe (good player, couldn’t be bothered, went off injured), Saka (great player, didn’t fancy it, stayed on sulking) and Odegaard (good player, looked petrified, stayed on moaning) could all cause United problems. And they did. For about seven or eight minutes in the first half roughly between the 19th and 27th minute.
The rest of the time they might as well not have been there. Only goalkeeper Ramsdale (great keeper, gave it his all, deserved better) looked like he was interested. From about the third minute when Ben White hauled down Callum Wilson and got himself rightly booked, Arsenal were disorganised at the back, over-run in midfield and toothless in attack. Champions League, you are right, they were having a laugh. Only their offside trap was Champions League standard. And their ability to fall over and stay down for ages. Even when they were losing with twenty minutes to go.
NUFC were completely different. The black and whites dominated this game from start to finish, except possibly those few minutes in the middle of the first half. That domination didn’t really lead to chances early on, Arsenal’s wayward distribution at the back under intense NUFC pressure gave a few decent openings. A Maxi run across the defence from the left side ended for once in a shot well saved by Ramsdale. Most of the time United created pressure and were caught offside or Arsenal fell down and got a free kick to relieve it. Callum Wilson ran the channels really well for fifteen minutes, jogged the channels for fifteen minutes, looked like he needed a ventilator for the last fifteen minutes.
‘Callum Wilson: Hit The North’
I went to see a band called The Fall about ten years ago and singer Mark E Smith basically got carried into the gig on a stretcher, ten minutes later he was on stage leaping about. Now I am not for one minute suggesting that whatever Smith received that night was the same as what Callum Wilson had at half time. But he came out running the channels again. And Arsenal couldn’t handle it. It happened straight away. A new half and a proper threat. United had been on top in the first half, in the second half it was a slaughter.
The Toon opened the scoring in the 55th minute with an absolute beauty of a goal. It would have been one of the best we had scored for years if Callum Wilson had knocked it in, which I was sure he had at the time. I haven’t seen it replayed but if Ben White scored it, Arsenal might want to play him up front on Sunday, he is a lot better finisher than their strikers. A great ball from Longstaff put JoeLinton away down our left, his wicked cross was belted into the back of the net by someone. They should still give it to Wilson, he deserved it. Minutes later, Wilson smashed a volley on the turn inches over from a Bruno cross and then again from an excellent Krafth pull back. Words I never thought I would say part one, an excellent Krafth pull back. Honestly, Krafth was excellent all game. I thought United would sell him for a few million in the summer. I reckon they could get about £30million from Leicester now.
Wilson wasn’t finished, he hit a bouncing ball about forty yards out first time a la Cisse over a back-pedalling Ramsdale and inches wide. It would have been a goal of the season contender. Wilson was completely fantastic in the second half. The striker we thought we were signing a couple of seasons ago. With that kind of performance, he will be going to the World Cup in the winter.
More chances followed. Jacob Murphy and Ryan Fraser replaced Maxi and Miggy. I can’t remember Miggy ever playing so well in black and white. He was absolutely brilliant, at times like N’Golo Kante with Scott Sellars’ left foot. Maxi, well he played better than he has recently and looked a bit underwhelmed during the post-match back-slapping. I hope we haven’t seen the last of either of them, perhaps we have seen the last of both of them. While I shook my head at the double substitution at the time, both Fraser and Murphy were effective when they came on. Both have tremendous pace and energy, both are a bit lighter on brains and ability. They exchanged a series of passes while running onto goal in a two versus one situation, Murphy ended up with the ball twelve yards out and blasted a shot straight at Ramsdale. He should have put the game safe.
A few minutes later it was. United were camped around the Gunners box, Longstaff dinked a ball through to Wilson who challenged the on-rushing Ramsdale. The ball fell to Bruno, Arsenal had gone home, only Soares was around to try and clear off the line. He couldn’t, game over. Bruno was brilliant again. Longstaff, well it was the best I have seen him play in a United shirt. Like Miggy, Krafth, JoeLinton and Wilson, all career high points in my book.
There was still time for Dwight Gayle to come on and almost score. It would have been a fitting tribute to a player who will leave in the summer. Instead he passed to Fraser who forced another save out of Ramsdale from twelve yards. He should have scored, maybe he was as surprised as I was that Gayle had passed. The six minutes of injury time came and went, prolonging the agony for Arsenal. Both sides had made four substitutions, the first time I think I have ever seen that happen in a league game. For United, Schar had gone off with a concussion that looked at first like very little but the reaction of the players, staff and doctors let us know it was more serious. I don’t know why Arsenal were allowed to make four subs. Pity perhaps (ED: Haven’t had a chance to check it out personally but told today that if one team has an extra (fourth) concussion sub, the other team are then automatically allowed four subs in the game). They could have made ten or played with fifteen players, it wouldn’t have made any difference. They ought to be ashamed of the performance they put in. They won’t be, they’ll be off to Ibiza for a month on Monday, drinking champagne in their Raybans. Only when the Europa League hits them in August will they regret it. Or next time they meet Piers Morgan.
After the game, some of the publicity of the victory was taken away from NUFC by comments by Granit Xhaka:
“People speak always about leaders. We’re not playing tennis, we’re playing football. If someone is not ready for this pressure, stay at home. You can’t come here and play like this. We looked very bad today. The gameplan was totally different. We played a totally different game.”
Which is fair enough, I just said it too. I’m allowed to say it though, I wasn’t playing for Arsenal. Xhaka was. He was as bad as anyone on the pitch. If Miggy played like a Kante, then Xhaka played like something very similar. I guess he was still basking in the glory of his first half. When the half time whistle blew, that was the first time this season he has managed to complete the first half without getting sent off.
Which says to me that despite not wanting to get too carried away, our run of beating mid-table teams, especially at home, and now beating Arsenal so convincingly, seems to say that it is within the club’s grasp to have a good season next season. Recruitment, retainment and performances will obviously be key but apart from the top two mega-giants and whatever emerges from the ruins of Chelsea and Manchester United, there isn’t a great deal to fear in the Premier League. No one in fact. It will take more than good home form to get there, more than unity and togetherness and more than one great performance against the better teams in the league, but we knew that anyway. At least the team have shown they can do it for ninety minutes against a good team and win. That hadn’t happened so far this season.
While there have been obvious stars in the last few months who can take us on to the next level, last night was also a glimpse that some of the ones who we considered surplus to requirements may have the appetite and ability to stay. The likes of Lascelles, Longstaff, Krafth and Almiron showed last night that maybe they have a part to play in the new Edolution of the team. One of the issues Howe will have to address in the summer is the lack of depth in the squad. Too many times this season there has been no one to bring on to improve the team if the plan wasn’t working. Too many times those who came on made things worse not better. Maybe last night was a glimmer of hope that some of those who are here can stay and change that. They certainly played like they want to.
‘The A-Team and some of the B-Team’
As Eddie Howe stated post match:
“A whole host of things have helped us turn the results around – unity, team spirit and January definitely helped with quality players coming in.
“The mentality of the group, they were determined not to get relegated. The hardest thing for me this summer is to keep that [group spirit] intact while changing the dynamic of the group.”
Two players who I think deserve a special mention are Dan Burn and Matt Targett. Burn has been a giant at the back. Yes I know I say that every week as a joke, he is massive, but it is true. I have certainly seen better players at the back, Burn is no Philippe Albert. I have also seen more complete defenders, Dan may never be a Woodgate. I don’t think I have ever seen an NUFC centre back defend so consistently in their own performance whilst also raising the level of the entire back four with them in their first twenty games as Burn has. If, as it seems, the club are interested in Botman and Tarkowski, then the defence might look like something out of Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings series next season but whoever they buy, if they play as well as Burn then that is ok by me.
Finally, Matt Targett. He played this game like he either wants to stay, or perhaps wanted to end on a high. At the end of the game in the lap of appreciation he looked like a man who was leaving. I hope not. No one has given more since January than Targett, amazing as he is only on loan here. He has put a hundred per cent in to every second of every game since he arrived and has more often that not played well. I am aware of his limitations, he is very probably aware of his own limitations himself, but outside of the top three teams, I can’t think of a better left back in the Premier League. Given the talk of unity and spirit which Howe mentioned earlier, Targett is another player who deserves to stay if he wants too.
But there you go, enough about the individuals. It has undoubtedly been a group effort to do what Newcastle United has done since January. The supporters, players, coaches and owners can all give themselves a huge slap on the back and start to look forward. It will be an interesting summer and we can look at it with optimism rather than anticipation of on-field or off-field calamity. Optimism? I have almost forgotten what it is. Have a great summer and howay the lads.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 2 Arsenal 0 – Monday 16 May 8pm
White OG 55, Bruno G 85
Possession was Arsenal 49% Newcastle 51%
Total shots were Arsenal 11 Newcastle 16
Shots on target were Arsenal 2 Newcastle 4
Corners were Arsenal 8 Newcastle 12
Referee: Darren England
Attendance: 52,274 (Arsenal 3,000)
Dubravka, Krafth, Schar (Lascelles 49), Burn, Targett, Guimaraes, Longstaff, Joelinton, Saint-Maximin (Fraser 77), Almiron (Murphy 76), Wilson (Gayle 90+4))
Darlow, Dummett, Ritchie, Fernandez, Trippier
(Piers Morgan Newcastle United comments – Perfectly sum up Arsenal fanbase – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 Arsenal 0 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)
(Eddie Howe feeling overwhelmed after the best yet BUT now only focused on what comes next – Read HERE)
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 2 Arsenal 0 – Read HERE)
(Mikel Arteta with blinding honesty after Newcastle 2 Arsenal 0 – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 Arsenal 0 – The three big points that I’m taking from the match – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 Arsenal 0 – Instant NUFC fan / writer reaction to Monday’s superb victory – Read HERE)
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