Wow, what a cracking match! While we may have just witnessed some of our best and worst football that we’ve played this season, there’s no denying that it was entertaining. As I discussed in my match preview, Newcastle unsuprisingly changed their formation to a 4-5-1 to better deal with the threat posed by our midfield trio. Before the 1st whistle this showed the respect they had for the capabilities of our midfield and as a direct result of the middle being stifled, both teams opted to attack through the wings, with much of Arsenal’s offense channeled through Podolski and Gibbs on the left. Weirdly both teams stood off each other and gave the players room to play and despite an early chance for Chamberlain, Newcastle had the better of the chances in the first half, while Arsenal were reduced to playing counter-attacking football and managed to take the lead with a good run and finish from Walcott after Podolski picked out his run. Podolski in particular was a constant threat to Newcastle but for all the movement down that wing it was still Newcastle creating more dangerous plays with the exception of their final passes.
Most uncharacteristically of late, both our fullbacks had a bad game defensively, with Sagna and Gibbs both caught out on multiple occasions. Koscielny also looked rusty after his time off injured and coughed up the ball several times, while Vermaelen by contrast was pretty consistent throughout. The goal we conceded before half time from a set piece, will go down as Wilshere’s fault for ducking and turning his head but with the recent head trauma suffered by Van Persie who can blame him? Wilshere’s a brave lad but he must’ve been fearing for his life after Ferguson’s revelations early in the week on the danger of a ball striking a players face. Clearly Newcastle’s players should be arrested for attempted manslaughter, first Van Persie, now Wilshere, who’s next? Back on topic, Szczesny’s setting of the wall could’ve been far better and this contributed to the goal along with Arsenal’s penchant for using the shortest players in the wall. Oh and maybe Wilshere will just cop the hit next time.
So on to the second half and this is where the game’s tempo suddenly jumped. Wenger must’ve told the players at half time to get tight to Newcastle’s players and deny them room to play because that’s exactly what they did and suddenly the momentum shifted. If not for some poor decision making from Wilshere and Walcott in the final third, Arsenal could’ve been out of sight within 15 minutes. Newcastle to their credit, refused to go quietly and despite 2 good goals from Arsenal the drew level twice, the first time through the most shambolic Arsenal defending I’ve seen in a while and the second time through a defensive error and a great finish.The most interesting stat in this match was the lack of involvement by Arteta, who had only 59 touches, his lowest all season. The other more worrying stat was the lack of support given to their fullback by either winger which contributed to the goals conceded. Offensively speaking though, Arsenal were irrepressible, Newcastle were on tired legs after playing United 3 days earlier but instead of empathy, Arsenal were ruthless. The sharks smelt blood in the water and went into a feeding frenzy.
Now while I’ve mentioned that the lack of early goals was partly to do with Wilshere and in particular Walcott’s poor choices in the final third, not all of this is his fault. With Walcott up top, Arsenal were playing a 4-2-3-1 and with Cazorla playing too far from the double pivot, Arsenal were not keeping possession enough in the middle of the pitch to create the sort of chances Walcott needed and in turn, Walcott was not dropping deep enough to help win the ball and dominate the midfield battle. That’s because if you were to typify Walcott in a forward role you would say he’s a Striker, not a Center Forward and therefore isn’t accustomed to dropping deep into the midfield from a central role. When Giroud was subbed on late, the effect was immediate. With Giroud dropping deeper and aiding Cazorla, Arsenal suddenly looked like a new team. Factor in Newcastle’s tiredness and it’s no wonder we ripped them apart in the final minutes and I wish to god Giroud’s third shot had gone in rather than hit the post but still, 6 touches of the ball for 3 shots, 2 on target and 2 goals is not a bad return for our sexy frenchman. But it was Walcott who will grab the spotlight for his hat-trick and 2 assists and it’s hard to argue with the quality of finishing(and 1 beautiful cross) on display for those 3 goals, though the same can be said for Giroud. There’s no doubt in my mind that Podolski’s technical solidity, workrate and attacking efforts in the first half wore Newcastle down but in the end the flood gates opened once Walcott shifted to the right wing and along with Giroud, their combined movement completely confused the defense and had Newcastle chasing shadows in the final phase of the match, ultimately destroying them. All in all this was a strange match with Newcastle playing the possession football and Arsenal for a change, playing a deadly counter-attacking strategy.
I realise it’s hard to criticise a team when they score 7 but with matches against both Manchester City and Chelsea looming in the New Year I feel I should highlight some problem areas made apparent in this game. Firstly the 2nd goal scored by Newcastle was catastrophically poor positioning in defense. This in-game shot shows you everything you need to know. Even before Sagna is beaten far too easily, Wilshere is caught out jogging back slowly rather than realising the problem and getting tight to the player in the middle Gibbs is marking and Gibbs is unaware of the unmarked player at the back post who scores a tap in uncontested.
For the 3rd goal Gibbs was guilty of again leaving a player unmarked at the back post and despite a wonderful first time volley from Demba Ba, no striker should be given that kind of freedom. So onto the attacking errors we made. Or rather, the poor choices. The choice the player made is marked in red, while the green shows the choice they should’ve made and the player they needed to work with.
It may not matter missing these chances when you stick 7 past your opponent but against a tougher team where chances are fewer, these kind of poor decisions will often hurt you on the scoreboard. Overall I think the players tried a little too hard to give thru balls to Walcott, Podolski sent several balls that resembled a missile in pace, whizzing his way, while Arteta made a few 50 yard long balls to him and in general the tactic didn’t work. The chemistry on the wings is also questionable. While Gibbs and Podolski doubtless work well together I have my suspicions about Chamberlain and Sagna as a partnership. I couldn’t help but notice during the match how Gibbs and Podolski would either give a back slap, high five or yell encouragement to each other whereas on the other wing when Chamberlain played a pass to where he thought Sagna would run he was rewarded with a “what the fuck” stare instead. I’m still not sold on Walcott up front despite the hat-trick and if anything I believe he is a good plan B to have. Wilshere’s lack of determination to shoot was frustrating yet again and our defensive efforts need to sharpen up a bit before we take on the big boys. I also feel it’s important that we keep Walcott during the summer transfer window, both for his ability and to prove that we can hold onto our players. Whether it be for playing as a striker or in his proper role on the right wing, I don’t care. Just sign the damn thing.
Finally I’m disappointed that after 3 wins in a row, the home crowd were just as silent as ever. The sooner these useless yobs are thrown from their seats and replaced with boistrous, thunderously loud fans the better. Time now for the team to get ready for Southampton and dish out another thumping, Come On You Gunners!
And as always after a goal-fest, enjoy…
Finally, is anyone else disturbed by this? :D