We went to Newcastle and earned a rousing win at a superclub, to keep another superclub looking over their shoulder.
For all the deserved criticism since Liverpool, you would have to be dead inside not to derive extreme satisfaction from this win. It was an outing we’ll look back on fondly for a long time.
Was that our performance of the season? I mean, I think we’ve played better football, and we certainly gave up a few chances. But there are other factors, like Wimbledon-on-Tyne’s home record, as well as the stakes on an afternoon where defeat would surely have ended our season.
Then you’ve got the referee. During the game, with a shaky hand, I made a note saying one of the reasons I hope we win is because we need to be able to talk about Chris Kavanagh. The bar for a Newcasgtle foul was in the stratosphere—and a yellow, I dunno, in deep space?
We got clobbered in this match. In fact I can’t think of a player who didn’t get his achilles raked, face shouldered, or back elbowed. The better we played, the dirtier Newcastle became. In all this, the referee was more of a casual observer, until one of our players committed an infraction of course.
Of our best performers, Ramsdale made a few key saves, among them a reflex palm to keep Schär’s header out, Xhaka represented the Arsenal cause with characteristic passion and art, while Odegaard sparkled at times.
Physically Jesus finally looked back to his pre-injury shape, constantly harassing their CBs and deep midfielders, in a way that will be vital when we face Brighton next week.
On the other hand, Zinchenko struggled defensively, perhaps because a lot of Newcastle’s resources were directed towards exploiting him. When he was on the ball and able to play centrally he did contribute to a few memorable moves. Still, Arteta made the right call when he brought Tierney on after an hour, and his freshness, turn of speed and defensive awareness blunted Newcastle’s right hand side.
But my favourite player was Jorginho, who brings craft in possession, and also in the way he battles. He competes for the ball with a cunning a few of our players could learn from. How I wish we could have got him in his 20s.
Early on in both halves, Newcastle’s menace came from their football instead of their violence. We looked cold in the first ten minutes, giving encouragement to their pressing by misconnecting over and over. Murphy hit the post, and then they had a penalty chalked off after VAR showed the ball hit Kiwior’s thigh. Of course, Kavanagh blew for it without hesitation.
That break allowed us to think clearly for the first time, and within seconds we had the lead. Just as in the fight back against Southampton, Odegaard stepped up, drilling a long shot through Botman’s legs and past Pope, who might have done better, but who cares.
We relaxed right away, and played half an hour of symphonic football, picking holes in Newcastle’s high line, and drawing one-on-one saves against Martinelli, Saka and then Odegaard. While we could have put the game to bed in theory, I can’t have been the only one who could see the upside of not racing to a 2-0 lead in the first half.
Newcastle tore at us again at the start of the second period. Isak nodded their best chance of the game onto the post, and then Ramsdale’s stupendous save kept Schär out. This time we always carried a threat on the break, and responded when Martinelli curled it onto the crossbar.
The game’s crucial moment arrived in the 57th minute, when Xhaka’s last-ditch tackle saved a goal and set up a serene final act.
While the home team couldn’t dent the scoreline, they never stopped trying to inflict blunt trauma. It’s one of the reasons our second goal was such a treat. Perhaps tired of losing so many duels, Schär steamed into Jesus on the touchline and dipped his shoulder on the way through. It was one of many Newcastle challenges that could have done real damage.
Shortly after, when the always effervescent Martinelli wriggled to the byline and cut it back, Schär was the man to jab it in at the near post. If he hadn’t intervened, I think Odegaard was in a great position and might have scored at the back post. No matter, it was funnier this way.
So the story does not end at St James’s Park this season. We now look comfortable as hunters, and the difference is small enough to make it interesting. It’s fitting too that we played like we deserve to be at the top end of the table on the day we sealed a top two finish.
Wherever this regained spirit takes us, this was a match that should give us confidence for away trips in Europe next season. Botman, Guimarães, Trippier and Isak are Champions League footballers, and St James’s Park is as fierce as any atmosphere we’ll face on the continent.
Unbelievably good blog, it was a joy to read as the match was a joy to watch. Personally I would have hooked Zinchenko and Saka at half time, but otherwise I think Arteta was brave with his tactics and selections.
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Thanks Birdy: top work. Like those old German Weather Houses, it seems only appropriate for me to come out when the sun shines, just as some retreat inside to wait for stormier weather. Tag team Positively Arsenal style. Our old friend coincidence again. All part of the rich tapestry I suppose though I should also add that a series of unfortunate circumstances has prevented me from watching much since just before Easter. Anyhow, apologies for my hissy fit and any offence I caused.
It’s saddened me not to see ESR playing, and like many I wonder what he has, or has not, done to see him so firmly glued to the bench. Perhaps he has just taken longer than expected to regain proper sharpness since surgery, and perhaps he never will: he wouldn’t be the first nor the last to have rich promise derailed by injury. On that score, Saliba must be a worry, and his current state certainly adds complexity to any new contract negotiations. It seems Kiwior has done well since he’s been a starter, and many might wonder why he didn’t play before, though it was probably a good thing that his first game wasn’t against Man City. Could he have played before then? Hindsight would suggest he should have, but it would have been a brave call to ignore the proven reliability of Holding in favour of a player few had heard of before the January window at that stage of the season. Still Kiwior looks a good bet for the future now, and that’s a comfort. Not every player signed will be a success, and some take longer than you’d think to acclimatise to new Leagues, new surroundings.
Did we choke against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton? Hard to say we didn’t and to me a classic case of forgetting the process and suddenly concentrating on the prize. If as seems likely we do come Second then there’ll be a lot of ‘if onlies’ for the players and manager to cope with through the summer. And the fans for that matter. But the last two games have got us back on track, and to have secured the Runner-up spot after a season which has come as a surprise to nearly everyone after last year’s implosion will surely make player recruitment over the next few months easier. My guess is that we’ll sign two very good players in their prime, and that will make a few of our younger ones feel they have to look elsewhere, pecking orders being what they are. I remember being called into the coach’s office at the end of the 1980 cricket season to be told to have a good winter (playing and coaching in South Africa) as I’d definitely be first-team keeper come April: a couple of months later I was sent a cutting from the Evening Standard saying that Sussex had just signed Ian (Gunner) Gould from Middlesex. Definitely the right call from the County, but it certainly hurt. At least I didn’t have to cope with Social Media back then.
So three to go: Brighton, Forest and Wolves, and if we really are the second best side in the League you’d have to fancy our chances of 9 points, but it’s a China Orange to the whole of Lombard Street that it won’t be as easy as all that.
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That’s a GREAT article Birdy, you should be writing for The Athletic, you really should.
I thought Newcastle were a disgrace and the ref even worse. That hilarious moment one of ours was taken down in a move reminiscent of WWE (that’s foreign wrestling, I think) and the Arsenal victim ended up booked alongside his assailant, by a ref as incompetent as any I’ve seen all season.
And that’s the Newcastle blueprint for next season, btw, Stoke V2.0 they switch to when they can not beat opponents fairly. All clubs need to complain very loudly about them.
Jorge was indeed magnificent, his world-class experience flooding through to reinforce and stiffen the sinews of his unfairly battered teammates.
Should we win the league I think two or three moments will be plucked out as symbolic of our success – take your pick from a suite of Ramsdale contributions yesterday and then that unbelievable Bobby Moore-esque block from the once much maligned Xhaka. Add in that wonder goal from Reiss Nelson from a few months ago and you have much of the story of our season.
Also thought Kiwior’s emergence yesterday as a calming and competent contributer was highly significant, a great portent for next season.
Newcastle had only previously lost one game this season at the Sid James stadium but they’ll find that no laughing matter if they end up in the Europa, partly thanks to our players’ magnificent endeavours.
Even if we finish 2nd to the financially ‘compromised’ Mancs, this will still go down as on of our most remarkable seasons.
Well played, Arsenal, well played.
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Foreverheady – what I’ve heard about ESR is Arteta is teaching him a new role at the club, I think, to mirror, then take over from Xhaka.
And I agree, we had a bit of luck to not concede but then so did they, we could easily have scored five in total but just managed to avoid doing so. The MO miss was pretty awful given he had scored from an earlier chance 100 times harder!
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Great stuff Birdkamp.
A fantastic performance , all the players stepped up.
It was a performance that triumphed over an official that appeared to be either biased, or incompetent.
If, as reported, Howard Webb really is on a mission to improve refereeing standards ( we’ll see where that goes) , Chris Kavanagh should be taken offline until he learns the laws of the game and how to apply them equally. If he melts in cauldron of big northern teams, he will just be another Mike Riley, or so many other refs over the years.
But credit to the team for overcoming the officiating as well as the opposition
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Loved reliving the moment, once again a great read. Jorgi really directed proceedings and is a calming influence on those around him. Tierney’s introduction in the last two games has added another dimension although keeping him I think will be difficult.
ESR? I feel that there is a master plan and he certainly didn’t look unhappy on the bench yesterday. There again I could be completely wrong and he might just be another one who gets away.
So many good moments from yesterday to drool over on a sunny July day and needing a football fix. I could also make Birdkamp blogs my holiday reading.
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Thanks for the nice comments everyone. Hope you all had a good bank holiday.
what a trio of EPL results today,
Fulham 5-3 Leicester
Brighton 1-5 Everton
Nottingham Forest 4-3 Southampton
Southampton rooted firmly at the bottom of the table, 8pts from safety with only 9pts to play for, Everton and Forest move out of relegation places, with leicester and leeds dropping into the bottom 3. All have 3 games to play
the 4 teams in the championship promotion play offs are luton, middlesbrough, coventry and sunderland
I would like coventry to get promoted, brooke norton-cuffy is at loan with them, and former gooner ben sheaf plays for them too, former gooners Daniel Ballard is at Sunderland and Chuba Akpom is at Middlesboro,
luton would be the shortest distance for team and fans to travel
Thank you BK
I agree with Newcastle close but clear favourites at Home with a Homer (at best) possibly the best performance of the season. So far.
Fabregassian gestures from Ødegaard.
He mastered the Ozil finish and then wow he has scored some big Away goals this year. Even more development to come. Ceballos and the other Madrid loan were worth every penny heh. Credit where it is due.
Before the match I wrote about putting all my chips down on Willock but as Schar was playing a villain on the day I was happy with him coming in as a sub. for the former Gunner with an own goal to seal victory.
Not sure even the blessed Welbeck can help Brighton against City after their recent result can they fluke a nil-nil!? All remaining gambles might fall on Iwobi’s feet. Or shins.
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Another great blog to match another great win. Yes a refs first responsibility is for the safety of the players and he failed miserably. The scuffles throughout the game were all caused by the poor officiating and it was amazing how noone wasn’t seriously hurt.
If an official can be stood down for a serious error then this official and his oppo in the VAR room should be banned for life it’s just not good enough.
As far as the game was concerned we coped really well with all the shit housery, the officials, the crowd and at times their really good football and come out smelling of roses.
I can’t have it that Kiwior is the new saviour he didn’t play against city or indeed any game earlier because he was poor in his first showing. He is fast across the ground and his tackles are well timed but his distribution is poor at the moment and often played others into trouble and he is not great in the air. I do believe however he has shown the potential to be very good. As our poor defensive performances that have led to our string our unfortunate results were all about team defending then I find it totally illogical what is being said about Kiwior.
The team as a whole was brilliant coping with all that was going on and creating the feeling of comfort the longer the game went on shows we were able to impose ourselves on a very good team.
I agree with the Zinchenko statements but he has been poor defensively for a while but his ability to help the midfield means he is impossible to leave out at the start of the game. With him and the brilliant X&J and MO dropping in we gained more and more control.
I have to say if there was one small critique of BK’s article it would be the influence of Willock, I thought he was excellent and definitely one that got away. To watch his performances week in week out and think we kept Pepe and brought Vieira has me crying at the telly.
New post is up.