Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

Dear Arsenal supporter,

I felt happy and relieved after Sunday’s game and I hope you enjoyed the moment as well.

That’s how the manager’s email began and it was exactly how most Gooners must have felt, happy and relieved.

Happy St. Totterginham’s day to you all.

Once again it’s gone down to the wire and some last gasp defending but here we are. Champions League football, or at least a chance to qualify for the group phases, sweetens the deal. Or is it the other way round?

Anyway, apologies for the lack of the pregame article. I usually write it late in the night before the day of the game but this weekend was just too hectic and I just didn’t realize when it came and went.

In a way I’m also glad I didn’t write it because the possibility of a draw was looming large in my mind. In the end, it wasn’t the prettiest game Arsenal will ever play but it was pretty effective.

Wenger went with the same line-up that did the job against Wigan despite Giroud’s availability, which again showed continuity is very important to the Frenchman’s system and thinking.

At the start I got a feeling Arsenal wanted to make sure they didn’t lose this game before they thought about winning it. The tempo wasn’t as quick as we’ve seen at the start of some recent games. Fewer bodies were committed in attack and high pressing was utilized very occasionally. The players seemed more interested in holding their shape and keeping things under control.

Despite that, or because of that, it was Newcastle who looked the more threatening team. They were constantly looking to get in behind Arsenal’s defensive line with Gouffran making runs and forcing Mertesacker into choices and actions that made him uncomfortable. At times, their full-backs also made forays down the wings and into space with the best opportunity falling to Cisse from one such burst by Yanga-Mbiwa. By my count, Mertesacker made four or five mistakes in the opening half hour which might have proved costly against a team that had more at stake. I thought Arsenal got away with it initially as the hosts had very little to play for and didn’t really put in enough effort to convert their promising moments into shots on target. Then again, it’s been  a problem for them all season so maybe it wasn’t just a function of being safe.

There was also this feeling in that opening half-hour period that Arsenal had an extra gear that wasn’t yet engaged. I don’t know if it was the dreaded handbrake that was holding them back or just prudent and patient tactics. Perhaps, a bit of both.

Wenger’s men did go close on a couple of occasions and both were from set-pieces. Koscielny got his head to a corner and his effort went just wide of the far post. It was a shame no one attacked that region. Later it was his central defensive partner who got something on a Walcott delivery. Coloccini almost headed that into his own net.

The second half was different. Mertesacker upped his game and, along with the consistently excellent Koscielny, did enough to ensure Szczesny’s goal was well protected. I don’t think Newcastle had any opportunities in the Arsenal box despite seeing a lot of the ball.

In fact, the entire team deserves credit for defending well collectively. It was one of those games which I’ve seen from the likes of Chelsea and United in the recent years – Make sure you don’t lose and then find a goal from somewhere.

Arsenal’s goal came from somewhere alright. For the second year in a row Koscielny pounced on a loose ball in the box to make the decisive contribution in the last game of the season. A freakish moment in the box was the most likely source of goal for the Gunners as they weren’t creating many chances or taking risks from open play. Newcastle were poor at defending set-pieces in this game but I doubt anyone supporting Arsenal will complain.

The end was a bit nervy but given the strong run that Arsenal are on, and the observations that I’ve made in the last few games, it seems only fair to give the players enough credit by saying they were in control even if it was from a defensive point of view. Indeed, it’s a pleasant change and hopefully a sign of things to come in the future because there haven’t been many occasions in recent seasons where you could say Arsenal controlled the game without the ball.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Relatively easy day for the Pole.

Sagna: Of the two full-backs, I thought the Frenchman had the easier game as Newcastle didn’t try to get behind him as often. Gutierrez was regularly pulled back to double up on Walcott and that made Sagna’s job simpler. Nevertheless, it was a solid and error-free game from the experienced defender and it helped Arsenal’s quest of keeping a clean sheet. He also did a good job of holding on to the ball and pressing it when high up the pitch. Won the free-kick that resulted in the goal through clever use of his body.

Mertesacker: Really struggled in the first 30 minutes or so. Yanga-Mbiwa went straight through him, there was another occasion when he went to ground without getting any of the ball, and so on. Had that sort of decision making and form lasted the whole game, it would have been tough for Arsenal to shut Newcastle out. But he raised his game after the early hiccups and made vital contributions in and around the box during the rest of the game.

Koscielny: Clearly the MotM in my opinion. Decisive in both the penalty boxes and thus influenced the outcome more than any other player. Perhaps a fitting closure to an excellent run of form in the last few weeks of the season.

Gibbs: Newcastle produced a number of half-chances from wide on their right but I didn’t think Gibbs was at fault. It’s worth noting that Debuchy was the man delivering the ball more often than not when the Arsenal full-back was tucked in narrow. It could be that Pardew noticed Cazorla’s tendency to roam and instructed his right-back to push up at every opportunity. Whether it’s an individual’s fault or that of the system, Arsenal will have to find a way to plug this hole or more teams will exploit it next season and the defence won’t always hold out.

On the whole, apart from a few iffy moments from the German, the back five had a comfortable, even commanding, game that provided the platform for a scrappy but immensely important win.

Arteta: Looked alright in the opening exchanges but didn’t last long. He might have been playing through some pain and it must have gotten beyond bearable limits. I like the fact that he came off instead of trying to be a hero when his body wasn’t responding at the level needed.

Rosicky: Attacking influence was limited to playing the ball out wide on the right. His presence in the central areas was helpful from a defensive point of view and his discipline was commendable.

Ramsey: Another tireless performance that typified the current tactical approach – It was more about hard-work than artistry. Was helping his teammates all over the pitch without really standing out through individual flair.

Cazorla: Debuchy’s adventurous runs will give him and Wenger something to think about before the start of the next season. This wasn’t his most eye-catching display but was still the Arsenal player most likely to make something happen from open play.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: I was a bit surprised when he came on in place of Arteta and remained central. It’s an area he is likely to command in the future but there was little to read from this particular effort. It was a relatively comfortable display from him in an unfamiliar role but was helped by the fact that the team largely stayed together and deeper.

Industrious performances from technically competent players who perform the basics without mistakes can go a long way in paving the path to success, particularly in tough-ish games. This is not how Wenger wants his midfield to play but if they could pull out such displays more consistently (when required) it will show in the final numbers tally and even in the Cup results.

Podolski: Does he get the assist? At least he was there and duelling for a cross that was hit behind him, that itself is a good sign. This might sound strange for a team that likes to play silky, one-touch football, but I get a feeling sometimes he plays the ball too quickly. His teammates are not at the same wavelength and occasionally his pass is too impractical. He will have greater influence on proceedings if he can sync his thoughts with those of his attacking cohorts rather than playing largely instinctively. His pressing and defensive effort in this game seemed better than some of his previous efforts.

Walcott: Gutierrez and Mbiwa doubled up on him almost all the time, but it was good to see him attempting those dribbles. He’s taking more and more responsibility, which is a sign of maturity. At the moment the output is not quite there but the direction is correct. Good game, would have been great if he had converted his chance.

The forwards were isolated at times and had limited offensive impact. Did their jobs in support of the midfield and defence, which made a noticeable difference.

Subs: Giroud had greater presence in the attack and even in front of the defence when he fell back. His tenacity was crucial to Walcott’s big chance. I didn’t really notice Wilshere apart from that sliding foul, have no idea why he was brought on.

Wenger: Hit the bare minimum again after being written off completely. Definitely made a lot of people happy by finishing above Spurs and in the Champions League places. Defensively the team is better but not quite there. I’ll cover those issue and other aspects like balance and individual performances in the season review series.

14 Responses to Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. chetan says:

    Defensively the team is better but not quite there. . we have the second best defensive record this season ? we have conceded 3 goals more than city who has the best defensive record. . if our defense is not quite there then whats your take on united and chelsea’s defense which has leaked more goals. . you think their defense is much better than ours ? ? ?

  2. Rocka says:

    I have gladly given up some of the offensive prowess for defensive solidity. Long may it continue. A proper striker and Cesc can make this team great again. That is, as long as Wenger continues to allow Bould to look after the defence.

  3. Jacob says:

    It is just as well that there was no preview to this game. Not only was I suffering from a bad case of the butterflies, there were too many uncertainties around how Wenger would set up the midfield and the forward line, that I did not want to go into the match with a predisposed notion of the game. I guess the team’s mandate would’ve quite simply read “Win. At any cost”, and I’m glad this season-defining match didn’t degenerate into the craziness that we often associate with Arsenal.

    To the game, it was certainly evident that we adopted a cautious approach at the start. Though in recent games there has been a collective emphasis on keeping it together, we didn’t fly out of the blocks with the intent of scoring an early goal. It may have worked out well in hindsight. Given that the team’s remarkable recent run involved many low-scoring games, especially when we scored early, taking an early lead in this instance may have brought about a bit of uncertainty to Arsenal’s game, ratcheting up the pressure.

    I must confess my heart fell when I saw Arteta substituted. I could almost hear the Fates sharpening the dagger of misfortune. In that light, I thought Oxlade-Chamberlain performed very well. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to his mental strength, but I was pleased to note he wasn’t weighed down by the occasion.

    It would be interesting to weigh your perspectives on the defence against the statistics Chetan mentioned above. I look forward to your season reviews.

  4. […] Dear Arsenal supporter, I felt happy and relieved after Sunday’s game and I hope you enjoyed the moment as well. That’s how the manager’s email began and it was exactly how most Gooners must have felt, happy and relieved. Happy St. Totterginham’s day to you all. Once again it’s gone down to the wire and […] …read more […]

  5. Winner says:

    I am of the view that the defense is not quite there yet. Yes, the defence did well in this game and indeed in many other games in the run in. However, the performance was not very convincing neither was it confidence inspiring. The way Yanga Mbiwa and Gouffran were given too much space in the first half could have resulted in more than one goal against ruthless attackers. The team has definitely improved defensively, but again at the expense of the overall balance. There were many similarities between the last ten games and the first two games of the season. The defense conceded little, but there was also very little offensively. I think that the transition from defense to attack was not efficient enough and also not quick enough. This is an area where United has been ruthless under SAF. I am convinced that with the right investment this group of players can do great things.

  6. Gerry Lennon says:

    Good analysis Desi. I think you have the performances spot on. I like it that you have spotted two areas of our defence that the opposition can, and will exploit.
    Mertersacker when isolated, and Cazorla on the wing.
    With the latter it is not just his wanderings into the middle, it is also his height? Any high ball and you know fullback or winger will beat him in the air?
    With Mert it was noticeable how Man U used two players to pressure him; one to close down the pass to Sagna on his outside, the other force the back-pass to Szcz, knowing that, without Giroud, his long ball out would be won by their central defenders.

    So plenty to work on, but at least we have the better platform to start next season with?

    Have a nice break Desi …

  7. The font says:

    What a load of bull second best defence in the league
    You can only judge on stats

  8. Nognir says:

    I think Ox was one of our better players without being eye-catching. The reason the team defended so well was because he put in a real shift. Not a fan of stats but 5 tackles and 3 interceptions in 60 minutes is not bad for a midfielder

  9. varun nair says:

    i don’t agree with my fellow gooners that our defence is not upto the mark. There’s definetly more room for improvement but second half of the season, our defense has been impeccable. The only black spots were against Tottenham and Bayern (but atleast we werent walloped like the Bluagrana)

    With respect to Cazorla…hez better off playing in the middle or switching positions with Rosicky, who i feel is a committed tackler and can track back. I completely agree with your assessment of the midfield, Podolski i feel will do himself a world of good by looking up at his teammates before he receives the ball. But he will improve and so are his team mates.

    For the first time since 2004, we wont be losing any of our big players. (i mentioned 2004 since Edu left us on a free transfer) But Wenger should spend wisely. I have earmarked the areas for which our team needs stregthning.

    1. RB – Sagna has been swayed away by PSG and the Arsenal faithful know his time is up. His peformances have not been what we expect of. His replacement is Jenkinson, but i would like Wenger to bring a experienced RB to fight out with Jenkinson.

    2. Holding Mid/Anchor Man/Box to Box/ Ball Winning – We need a player in this position. I’m up for Coquelin to be played more next season and it will give us an idea on how good are academy graduates are or I would like to buy someone of the likes like Maxime Gonalons, who will cost cash but is a proven player.

    3 ST/CF/WF – Preferably i would like a player who could play in atleast two forward positions. We keep hearing of Jovetic and Higuain and if we get of both of them, we have a serious shot at the premiership. But both of them clubbed together will cost 40 million and Wenger has never spent more than 16 million on a player.

    The board or the papers suggest that Wenger will be given the funds to make necessary acquisitions.i guess atleast 3 players bought in these positions, we will be genuine contenders for the title.

    Desi..Your article has been spot on as ever.


  10. gunnerpete says:

    Is it just me that thinks that most of our problems in defence for 2/3 years has been down to (A) Sagna leaving massive gaps whilst jogging upfield and losing the ball and (B) Vermaelen cockups that left Per stranded?

    My own wish is that AW sells Sagna, uses Jenks from now on with Bellerin as back up. If necessary sqap Vermy for Benteke or even another defender.

  11. femzo says:

    Honestly, Desi I have noticed you don’t quite give Mets the honours he deserves. you are very subtle about it but overtime ,It’s something I have picked from your various articles .while you may be right about some of the things you say about him. and the fact that he might not even be the best defender we have .There is absolutely no doubt he is our most consistent over the whole season which is why he has been our most played defender this season

  12. Cupsui Loves Kozzer says:

    All hail the Boss…King Kozzer!
    what a performance that was. Best defender in the EPL…
    thanks for another great season Desi. You are the highlight of the Arsenal blogshere.

    I too think most of the problems of the defence seem to have been sorted and its no surprise that it came with demoting TV5. his positioning is really poor for someone of this level and it has cost us. I felt he was long overrated by the gooner public, even the media cause he scored goals early, but even then he was frequently getting caught out.

    Another big plus on the defensive side of this is that we have essentially been playing a positionally very astute DM and another very hard working midfielder in Rambo. This has come at a bit of a cost in attack as we have lacked the creativity when playing a combo such Arteta, Whilshere, Rosicky and Santi on a wing.
    I think this can be balanced with depth in the DM spot.

    A big strong DM should be one of the top priorities in the summer. (for me someone like Capoue is the type of player we need for this – lets call him BIG GUY for now). This will allow wenger confidence in rotation. Rambo will slowly take over completely from Arteta although having them both will be key next seasons…these sort of combos and allowing santi to remain on the wing which allows us technical dominance over any EPL side:

    BIG GUY – Arteta – Whilshere
    BIG GUY – Ramsey – Whilshere
    BIG GUY – Whilshere – Rosicky
    these combos to combat physical EPL games where muscle is often needed to help get on top

    Arteta – Rambo – Whilshere
    Arteta – Rambo – Rosicky
    These combos (such as we have recently seen) to be more defensive but technically superior

    Arteta – Whilshere – Rosicky
    Rambo – Whilshere – Rosicky
    These combos for an attacking approach

    Rotation is the key for us next year. Building a squad that we can rotate and compete on multiple levels must be key for Wenger as it is clearly what we have been missing over the last few years…

    well done Gunners…thanks again desi

  13. Jeff says:

    Rosicky’s tackling is so unique that i enjoy his tackling just as his penetration run n pass.. i dont think there’s any player in the world ,in his position (AMC),who slides more than rosicky. haha.. Rambo,with all his exceptional work-rate,should actually learn from Rosicky. I’d like to see a tougher rambo next season,do more tackling n of course he needs to pass better as he often makes unforced error in terms of passing. Having said that,i think rambo has been excellent in the past month. Well deserved the player of the month award. I hope he could maintain his form next season.

  14. […] Gibbs: Newcastle produced a number of half-chances from wide on their right but I didn’t think Gibbs was at fault. It’s worth noting that Debuchy …read more […]

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