Tuesday, April 29, 2014

No contest

Arsenal 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Well, that was everything we expected, and worse. Arsenal could and should have butchered us, but instead - like a particularly sadistic cat toying with a poor, defenceless mouse - they lazily purred their way to victory, only bloodying their claws three times. Needless to say, though, this was more than enough to secure three points against a side that had lost its previous five matches, had scored one solitary goal in that time, and last salvaged a point from a two-goal deficit in that 4-4 draw with the Gunners in February 2011.

The spirit, determination and tenacity that came to the fore in the extraordinary second half of that match were nowhere to be seen on an evening when we surrendered without even pretending to put up a fight. Arsenal may have been driven on by the prospect of taking a decisive lead over Everton in the race for fourth place, but this was a result that owed less to their effort and more to our staggering lack of it.

The restoration of Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy to the starting XI was anticipated, though not their compatriot Moussa Sissoko's recovery from injury - and it was the midfielder's return that initially looked to be the most significant. After a slow opening period during which our hosts held sway and Mesut Ozil fired narrowly wide, Sissoko started to come to prominence with some direct, powerful runs suggestive of a man who had spent his time on the treatment table watching videos of Yaya Toure. Sadly the end product wasn't there, most notably when he curled a shot high over the bar after rampaging through the Gunners' defence.

Sod's law, then, that Sissoko was twice at fault in the build-up to the opening goal. First he gave away a free-kick (and collected a yellow card) for tugging back Olivier Giroud, and then he allowed Santi Cazorla's flighted ball to run across him for his man Laurent Koscielny to prod past Tim Krul. That we had succeeded in making a very average set-piece look like a work of genius was underlined when Remy hit an identical dead ball soon afterwards only for Wojciech Szczesny to claim it without there being any hint we might score.

Other than that, our feeble response to falling behind came in the form of long-rangers from Mr T and Debuchy. The latter's regular advanced positioning, with Mini V filling in at right-back as required, bore all the hallmarks of a Silver Fox stroke of tactical genius, in that it didn't work. In fact, quite the opposite - the switching left our back line in disarray and resulted in the second goal. Giroud sprang the offside trap, if it's not too ridiculous to refer to it as such, and Krul saved his shots not once but twice. But our luck was as unbelievably rotten as our performance and on the second occasion the ball deflected perfectly to Ozil, who - despite being offside - tapped in, through Debuchy's legs just to make it smart even more.

Krul will have had been particularly aggrieved, and not just because his defence had hung him out to dry - he had previously done well to keep out two attempts from Lukas Podolski (one a shot and the other a header) and suddenly looked like the only player in Toon colours who actually gave a shit, also repelling a Cazorla drive.

Half-time came and went with no discernible change to our gameplan (such as it was), but we did at least muster a chance worthy of the name before an hour was up. Remy showed deft control and set Goofy in on goal, but though he outpaced Nacho Monreal, the Spaniard succeeded in forcing him wider than desirable and Szczesny had few difficulties in gathering the ensuing shot.

Predictably, that roused a response from Arsenal, who made our players look like training-ground cones with their third. Aaron Ramsey drew a defender before passing to Ozil, whose flashing cross was bulleted home via Giroud's forehead, no one bothering to offer a semblance of marking.

That was the cue for the Silver Fox to swap one sack of uselessness for another - in other words, Gosling for Big Lad - but the improbable improvement never materialised. Neither did it when MYM or Adam Armstrong came on, the latter far too late to have an impact and the former replacing a clearly disgruntled Debuchy who refused to make eye contact with the Silver Fox upon being withdrawn. Indeed, it was the Gunners who could have extended their lead, Podolski's shot close to ruffling the side netting. Our final opportunity fell to Paul Dummett from a dinked Sissoko cross, but the inexperienced defender proved himself to be both of those things with a wild volley high into the stands.

Before kick-off, the Silver Fox had claimed he was "looking forward" to being back in the dug-out after his ban, but perhaps didn't contemplate the fact that it made him a more obvious and visible target for the vitriol of his critics. The away section appeared practically unanimous in their condemnation of him and his employer, some fans having sensibly feared the worst and brought pre-prepared banners which were duly unfurled as the game petered out.

Chances are he has only two more fixtures to endure before being relieved of his duties. If only we could be relieved of our duty to support Newcastle...

An Arsenal fan's perspective: A Cultured Left Foot (nice to see supporters of other clubs recognising the lack of pride and respect the current side is showing us fans)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Anonymous Dan said...

Great report! I talk as an Arsenal fan, but it does sum the game up perfectly. I don't wish to be cruel, I'm not making fun, but I really couldn't believe how disinterested Newcastle were. Pardew has history against Arsenal & Wenger, I expected him at least to get his players to make a game of it.

10:54 am  
Blogger Ben said...

Thanks Dan. Our spectacular disinterest wouldn't have come as any surprise if you'd witnessed our previous five games, I can assure you! I feel sorry for Everton, whom we did no favours whatsoever. Chelsea and Man City should already be feeling aggrieved at the three points and massive boost to goal difference that we're set to hand Liverpool on the final day...

1:42 pm  

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