In the aftermath of our admittedly disappointing draw to Newcastle, some have wondered whether our apparently fragile and temporary table position has started to slip. Having missed a chance at going ten points clear, we now sit just eight above City pending their match at Stamford Bridge after which our lead may have shrunk to as little as five. Clearly, we should consider looking to the heavens to see if the sky is falling or, alternately, if pigs are flying.
It’s easier to suspect the former idiom after we’ve dropped points for the first time since 23 October and just third time all season. Is this then the first wobble that portends a deeper fall? From our point of view, it’s easy to let those old feelings of doubt creep in. After all, for as high as we’re flying, we’ve spent the last decade or dreading what felt like inevitable collapse, be it an unfortunate early goal conceded, a horror tackle, or an epic, disastrous defeat. We’d watch as players on the pitch let their shoulders slump and chins drop. We’ve only had a few precious months to exorcise years of existential dread; it’s normal to feel murmurs of that same dread.
How to dispel them? Let’s drag out that latter idiom. Ever since we rose to the top of the table, various pundits (especially of the Mancunian variety) have held that Arsenal will win the Prem when pigs fly. However, they’re trying to have their cake and eat it while talking out of two orifices at once. On one hand, they’re touting Newcastle as a serious contender for a top-three finish at a mininum. On the other, they’re crowing about how this draw strikes a fatal wound to our own campaign. It can’t really be both. Sharing a point with a top-three rival is…normal if not preferable. If it had been, say, relegation fodder like Everton that came in and snatched a draw, that would be a different story—but that’s such a laughably unimaginable scenario that one wonders why I’d even mention it.
The reality then is that this result does offer some legitimacy to Newcastle’s status but does not much away from ours. Only one club have beaten Newcastle, and that was away to Liverpool. This draw marks the sixth straight clean sheet Newcastle have kept, and they barely did so on Tuesday. Had we been just a bit sharper, especially in those first 15 minutes, or if Madley had remembered that he liked punishing shirt tugs (which he booked Nketiah and Ødegaard for in the first half), we might have come away with a comfy win.
Newcastle played like they were Pulis-era Stoke with a bigger budget. Those are the kinds of tactics that used to intimidate and unsettle us. This squad, however, is made of sterner stuff, greater conviction, and deeper desire. For as young as they are, these players rise to challenges. Conceding a goal seems to anger them. I suspect that dropping points at home with inspire them that much more. It’s almost a pity that we have to wait almost ten days to properly show how we react to setback.