I don’t remember the last time I felt such kaleidoscopic emotions in a football game. The first half was exhilarating, beautiful, mesmerising, you pick the adjectives. The second half was worrisome, unnerving, infuriating, I don’t want to dwell on it any further.
Arsenal took the lead in the opening minute. As I’d mentioned in the preview, Walcott wasted no time once he got the chance to run at the defence. The second goal came soon after when a good set-piece from Arshavin was turned in by Djourou for his first goal for the club. Van Persie scored the third and fourth after good work by Walcott and Sagna down the right.
When Arsenal score the first so early it forces the opponents to come out and breaks their organization. Newcastle were opened up with so much ease that it almost got boring at one point. Diaby and Cesc were dropping deep and controlling the play from there. It wasn’t a surprise to see some Newcastle fans leaving the stadium within half an hour.
This game would have continued in the same vein but for two big moments in the first five minutes of the second half. First Djourou limped off to be replaced by Squillaci. Then Barton tried to snap Diaby’s legs in half but failed. Diaby reacted to that and was sent off as the ref showed sympathy towards Barton’s failure at breaking the standing leg of the Frenchman.
From that point on Arsenal lost their composure. They lost their shape. Couldn’t create anything in attack. Couldn’t defend even simple balls.
Newcastle scored four goals. The first time a team has come back from a four goal deficit in the Premiership. Two were penalties of which at least one was a gift from the ref. One was a wonder strike, the kind of which we see a lot against Arsenal, especially when the momentum is with the opposition. And one was a simple goal from a cross. In fairness, Newcastle had a goal disallowed that should have stood.
I’ve no doubt the ref can be blamed for this result. He allowed too many fouls to go unpunished; too many cynical fouls were not booked. It gave Barton the freedom to go for that vicious lunge and set the dominoes in motion.
But I don’t want to blame the ref. Arsenal should have defended the lead even with 10 men. They should have found a way of handling the pressure and of breaking out of the defence. The problem was that with two of our biggest players taken out, the weaknesses of this team were exposed all at once.
It was far too easy for Newcastle to win possession back. They moved the ball from their half to the Arsenal penalty box time and again as if the Gunners weren’t even on the pitch. Too many needless free-kicks were conceded due to poor tackling technique. There was no outlet for Arsenal. There was no attacking plan or ambition. There was no physical presence in the whole of the midfield. There was hardly any defensive minded player in front of the back four. The substitutions were daft.
I would have said there was no leader on the pitch but a leader can’t do anything when the team completely loses its shape and the tactical system flops. The leader does not have the time to tell players how to make the runs, how to defend, and how to keep possession.
There is a reason this kind of a comeback has never happened before. No other team would succumb in such a manner. This was Arsenal at their worst after showing us something pretty close to their best in the first half.
The injuries are mounting again and Diaby has picked up a 3 game ban. I don’t see any point in appealing that because the letter of the law is quite clear. Unfortunately, the law does not take into account the fact that you’ve been at the receiving end of a shocking tackle or the fact that the ref has been an impotent idiot all through the game.
This is just the kind of performance and result that can see the season crumble. A couple of injuries, one moment of madness, and all the good work of the past few weeks was undone.
Szczesny: Made some good saves. But he must have got his first experience of playing behind a team that just didn’t know how to defend. Now he knows how Almunia felt in many games last season.
Sagna: Worked hard to defend but didn’t have the right support once Diaby was off. Good cross for the assist. Can’t blame him for the performance.
Djourou: Played only the first half and Arsenal were completely dominant in this period. Not sure how he would have been once the team lost the plot but his physical presence would have been useful. Very well taken header for his goal.
Squillaci: Tough to blame him as he didn’t make any glaring individual errors.
Koscielny: Was brilliant in the first half. Conceded the penalty that gave Newcastle the impetus. Not sure if it was a penalty but it is risky to try such tackles in the box. I’ll put that down to inexperience.
Clichy: Pretty much like Sagna. Worked hard but didn’t have much support from Wilshere. Rosicky almost made it worse for Clichy.
When a team concedes 4 goals the defence naturally gets a lot of criticism but I’d not blame the defenders or the keeper for this result. We can’t expect them to deal with a ball in the penalty box every minute for the duration of a half.
Diaby: was impressive in the first half. Dominated physically, controlled the ball well, provided good cover to the defenders. Poor reaction to the tackle. We know he has been at the receiving end of some really bad ones but that is where maturity comes into play.
Cesc: Magnificent in the first half. Came deep and opened Newcastle up far too often. Couldn’t offer any defensive protection in the second half.
Wilshere: Was a passenger for most of the game. Cesc and Diaby ran the show in the first half. Couldn’t offer much in terms of physical presence or tackling in the second half. Can’t blame the youngster, he tried hard and did what he could but lack of experience and his size were against him.
The midfield was unplayable in the first half and would have been good enough in the second but for one rash moment. Subsequently they offered no protection on the wings and Newcastle found clear channels to bring the ball forward and deliver it into the box. We can’t expect Wilshere and Cesc to be the two defensive midfielders and provide physical presence. This squad is dearly missing another defensive minded player.
Walcott: Good goal, good assist. Made many well timed runs. Did his part in attack and as much as he could in defence. He is not a midfielder who can defend on the wings for 45 minutes.
RvP: Two good goals. Decent delivery on set-pieces. Won a number of defensive headers as well. Wasn’t able to make the runs into the channels or offer an outlet when the team was under pressure.
Arshavin: Picked up two assists. Worked hard and tried chasing the ball whenever he could. Made some defensive tackles as well.
The attacking trio were phenomenal in the first half. Couldn’t offer much and their weaknesses were exposed once the midfield was taken out of the picture.
Subs: Rosicky had a very poor game, conceded needless fouls, lost the ball on a couple of occasions. Eboue came on too late in the game but should have done better to protect the right flank. Squillaci I have already covered.
Wenger: Picked the right starting eleven. It looked like Walcott had instructions to play higher up and that worked out well for Arsenal. Didn’t make the right decisions after Diaby was off. He should have brought on Gibbs for Arshavin and Bendtner for RvP. He should have asked Bendtner and Walcott to rotate a bit and offer an outlet from the defence. It’s a waste to see Theo having to defend deep so often.
You know if this game had been reversed, if Arsenal had conceded four in the first half and then made the comeback it would have been seen as a great fight back and a big result. That could have pushed the team forward and the supporters would have been happy. But since it’s been the other way round it will have a reverse impact. This will drag the team down, increase the negative vibes, and affect the confidence of the players. The score is still 4-4 but the way it is seen is completely different.
Now the most important thought in my mind is that we survive the international break without further injuries.