The international break provided respite from a gruelling start to the season for the Magpies. Normal order was resumed with an old-fashioned Saturday 3pm kick-off against Arsenal. The Gunners, lead by new boss Unai Emery, had begun to find their feet after a difficult start and looked to win a second consecutive away game.
Newcastle were to face their latest top 6 opposition, but from a fixture they managed to win last year combined with Arsenal’s defensive record (so far) spurred hopes for more attacking intent compared to last time out at the Etihad.
The Toon lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 which looked more like a standard 4-4-2 at times with Joselu and Ayoze under instruction to press the Arsenal backline. This was to target Cech who has been tasked with a ball playing role under Emery, a role he is struggling to perform to a high level.
From Newcastle’s own transitions Joselu would drop deep to attempt flicks towards Ayoze or link with the midfield 2 of Hayden and Diame.
The main strategy when working a passing sequence was to send the ball down the left hand side for Murphy to run in behind Bellerin, as the right back’s positional discipline is not as strong as his compatriot Monreal on the other side. Diame took on the Shelvey role of playing that quick ball to Murphy.
The Gunners’ formation was not too dissimilar to Newcastle’s. However, in their iteration of the 4-2-3-1, they had a striker in Aubameyang at left wing which allowed for fluid interchange of positions between the Gabonese, Ramsey, and Lacazette. Guendouzi and Xhaka were the midfield two locked in a battle with Diame and Hayden as Ozil roamed free.
Arsenal looked to build from the back with Cech exchanging passes with his defenders as Newcastle applied the pressure. Guendouzi was deep trying to spray passes out wide. Ozil was drifting inside from his right wing role in order to try to create through the middle, leaving an overlapping Bellerin up against Dummett when Arsenal did look to play wide.
Newcastle were combative in the first half. They found the Xhaka Guendouzi partnership easy to deal with as well as finding themselves higher up the pitch than in recent matches against the big sides. The Geordies out-tackled Arsenal by 14 to 8 with Ayoze and Joselu responsible for 6 of them to showcase the hard work from the front.
Arsenal did have 65% of the possession but did very little with it, amassing two shots, both off target. Newcastle also showed little quality in attack, forcing enough pressure to earn 7 corners but unable to show anything for that count.
The creative struggle was not a surprise with an unfamiliar starting midfield duo of Hayden and Diame, both of whom are more known for their defensive qualities. Both managed less than 80% pass accuracy and no through balls. Diame’s 4 attempted long balls came off twice and with Ayoze and Murphy not managing to make them count from the left flank.
Two substitutions were made at half time, one for either side and both proved key to the outcome of the game. Lascelles, struggling with injury, came off for Clark who switched positions with Fernandez to occupy left centre back as the Argentine took Lascelles’ spot.
Emery subbed out the youngster Guendouzi for the more experienced Torreira in a tactical change. The difference throughout the 2nd half was clear. Whereas Guendouzi was passing tidily, him dropping deep allowed Diame and Hayden to press higher and take pressure off the Newcastle backline. Torreira brought a new dimension to Arsenal as he was adeptly sweeping danger from deep but also carrying the ball forward to initiate attacks for Arsenal.
The payoff was almost instant as 5 minutes into the half a Torreira ball found Aubameyang, who was fouled by Fernandez for the freekick that would lead to the opener.
Arsenal controlled the game from that moment onwards as Torreira’s protection allowed Ozil and Xhaka to move further forward. Those two, alongside Ramsey, pinned Diame and Hayden back into a deeper block than when Guendouzi was on the pitch.
Newcastle struggled to impose themselves on the game in the second half because of Arsenal’s change. Diame and Hayden were occupied defensively with Ritchie, Murphy, and Ayoze struggling to keep possession.
In truth, Arsenal’s shape was still vulnerable as Ozil and Xhaka were higher up but Newcastle lacked the passing quality to find open channels for their front 4, despite Joselu and Ayoze dropping deep to help win the ball back.
Introducing Muto and Kenedy did make a slight difference. The Brazilian recovered from a bad corner and dispossession to provide a new outlet in attack with both he and Muto showing smart passing and decision making in the moves that lead to the Joselu chance and later Clark’s goal.
By the Numbers
|Shots on Target||2||2|
|Deep Passes Completed||4||10|
|Aerial Duels Won||24||24|
|Passes Per Defensive Action||16.05||7.55|
How the Goals Happened
49’ Xhaka Freekick (NEW 0-1 Ars)
After exchanging passes with Lacazette, Torreira cut the gap between Diame and Hayden with a forward pass to Aubameyang. Fernandez was rash in the tackle as Aubameyang cleverly shielded the ball to win the foul. Xhaka did the rest with a super effort that Dubravka almost got a hand to it but the dip and swerve was too much for him.
58’ Ozil Shot (NEW 0-2 Ars)
A series of quick passing, coupled with good movement down Newcastle’s right hand side, saw Xhaka lose his market Diame to cut back the ball into the Newcastle box. Diame and Hayden were drawn away from the central area so it was down to the positioning of Clark, Fernandez, and Dummett to deal with the danger.
The block was made but the ball landed at an unmarked Ozil’s feet, who side-footed it home. Dubravka should have gotten a stronger hand to the shot but Diame losing his man and Hayden being pulled away by Ramsey’s movement meant no one contested Ozil to the ball.
90+1’ Clark Header (NEW 1-2 Ars)
A Newcastle corner was cleared and Kenedy did well to keep the ball in play. Electing to pass back to Dubravka, the Slovakian then played a great ball out wide to the right side. Ayoze, positioned on the right in place of the substituted Ritchie flicked on the aerial for Fernandez who was still up from the set piece.
Fernandez put in a superb first time ball for Clark, who was unmarked and made no mistake. It was almost a mirror of the headed chance Joselu missed a couple of minutes earlier.
The Swiss midfielder took his goal exceptionally well but was also full of energy at both ends of the pitch, dropping deep to defend and looking to feed Ramsey, Ozil and the front two in attack.
The experienced Greek defender added more muscle and graft to Arsenal’s backline, something they missed in their 2-1 defeat at St James’ last season. He showed awareness to sweep up when Newcastle looked to take advantage of a Mustafi slip and generally kept things tight at the back.
The Uruguayan changed the game when coming on. It was an industrious 45 minutes which allowed Xhaka more freedom to influence things further up the pitch whilst Torreira either supported those runs or stayed back to sniff out any threat of a counter attack.
The signing from Swansea is looking better by the week and helping ease the loss of Lejeune. His ball playing ability is calm and composed and his defensive awareness, especially in the first half, was excellent as he dealt with quick runs in behind from Lacazette and Aubameyang, not an easy thing to do. He’s also shown decent crossing in his few outings so far, capped off by a brilliant ball for Clark to ensure the 1-2 score lines against last season’s top 6 remain.
Strikers are judged on goals and unfortunately the one presentable chance Joselu had drawn a brilliant save from Cech. Joselu’s all-around game has improved from last year and it was on display again today. He dropped deep to defend and also link play, he gave Mustafi a good battle all afternoon and worked hard.
A 4 at the back against a top 6 side was pleasing to see and certainly seemed to work in the first half. The midfield is in desperate need of Shelvey’s return, with lack of creativity from the centre of the park the biggest concern. An away fixture at Crystal Palace is never easy, but it will be nice to face opposition who don’t harbour Champions League ambitions in the next fixture.