Newcastle United (0) 1 Arsenal (0) 2
St. James’ Park, Newcastle
Saturday, 15th September 2018. Kick-off time: 3.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Guendouzi, Xhaka; Ramsey, Özil; Aubemeyang, Lacazette.
Substitutes: Elneny, Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Lichtsteiner, Holding, Welbeck, Leno.
Scorers: Xhaka, Özil.
Referee: Lee Probert
After a brief hiatus due to international commitments, it’s good to be back at the day job again; this week, the lads find themselves up the road and near the Tyne at a true cathedral of English football, St. James’ Park, the home of our old adversaries Newcastle United.
There surely cannot be another club in English football that define themselves completely by he who wears the coveted number nine shirt, and to be fair, one can see why; Hughie Gallacher, Jackie Milburn, Wyn Davies, Malcolm MacDonald and Alan Shearer, all players that would comfortably fit into any side, in any era. In fact, Malcolm MacDonald did; he played for us for nigh on three years in the late seventies, scoring 42 goals in 84 appearances, an enviable record for any Arsenal footballer.
The cacphonous atmosphere that greeted the combatants today made the arena seem almost gladatorial in its very construction; and indeed it became so as the sound of Blaydon Races resonated around the stadium creating an atmosphere of both tension and intimidation. As the match got underway with the Barcodes wasting no effort in pressurising the Arsenal defence, it was looking as if it would be surely a matter of time before their work would bring an early reward for them. For one reason or another we got out of jail constantly early on.
Time after time we were found wanting, and it seemed at times that our team collectively had two left feet, with the inability to string a series of passes together becoming evident. In fact, the only thing worth talking about from out point of view in the first half was the wasted chance that Aaron Ramsey criminally squandered; if he had played the ball across the six-yard box instead of missing the target completely, then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would surely have scored. Ho hum.
Anyway, come the break, cometh the man. Mr. Emery must surely have had a word in one or two players’ ears (and a flea in others) because the change in the chaps became obvious. Just four minutes after the break, Granit Xhaka’s perfectly struck free-kick found the back of the Magpies’ net, and that moment onwards, it was Arsenal’s match to win. The dynamic changed when Lucas Torreira replaced Mattéo Guendouzi in midfield, and our confidence just grew. Little more than ten minutes later, a shot from Alexandre Lacazette rebounded off a defender thus finding the feet of Mesut Özil, and the gimlet-eyed little midfielder wasted no time in scoring a goal, which turned out to be the defining moment of the match. As the back of the net rippled when the ball found its one and only true home, the cheers and applause from our supporters became apparent, and at the same time, fifty thousand Novocastrian hearts fluttered, knowing that for them, today’s game was lost. Despite a late raid by the Magpies which saw them score a goal in injury time, the match (and more importantly) three points went back to Islington, for us, a job well done.
Despite a victory, (the third in a row, it should be said) there are points to ponder. The good thing was that we didn’t pick up any unecessary yellow cards; but on the other hand the defence is still rocky. The full-backs charge up the pitch (a la George Male and Eddie Hapgood, or in recent memory Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn) but in doing so leave the centre-backs exposed. It was heartening to see that when in the second half Shkrodan Mustafi slipped, stumbled and fell leaving a Barcode forward to charge in on our goal, Sokratis came across and neutralised the threat, which shows that an understanding is being cultivated between the two men, which is a very good thing. It’s going to be hard to see how Laurent Koscielny is going to get back into this team if this CB pairing gets stronger, which it should. In midfield, it’s interesting to note that Granit Xhaka plays with more freedom when Lucas Torreira is alongside him; it could be that young Mattéo Guendouzi is not ready yet, and this is the line-iup that works. We’ll see. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as these early days are going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners.
Victoria Concordia Crescit.