Well, let’s just get this out of the way — yesterday was an incredibly frustrating match. The energy was great from the first whistle, the atmosphere was jacked up given the two teams placement in the table and overall confidence levels, and you really wanted to feel that energy transform into a flowing, competitive match between two quality teams. Instead, this match quickly became a match script that fit Newcastle’s intentions and the energy flatlined.
The opening fifteen minutes seemed like a good omen for things to come, even without a goal, but the shift was just beyond the horizon. Arsenal were on the front foot and creating a few nice half-chances against a stout Newcastle defense that was forced into a pretty low-block structure. However, after that opening things changed. Between some lethargic urgency from Newcastle to get the ball back in play all match and a ref that set an early whistle/booking-happy precedent, the affair turned into a start-stop-start-stop evening, denying any semblance of consistency.
This match structure created a lot of free kick opportunities for Newcastle, while their 16 fouls against Arsenal continuously broke up play if anything got too dangerous. There’s nothing illegal or inherently wrong with this, but it was pretty clear that Newcastle were willing and determined to keep their structure and commit the foul to break up any play that started to flow and it worked for them…if a draw was what they were aiming for. Couple that with the fact that Newcastle’s defense is a more than respectable unit and it made for tough sledding, even with 67% of the ball and 33% of the match spent in Newcastle’s defensive-third.
It was clear from the 20th minute that the officiating wasn’t going to do Arsenal any favors. From bookings for light tugs to the choppy flow it was giving the whole match, this sense of foreboding revealed itself to be true when Gabriel was yanked down in the box. It’s a penalty. It’s a clear penalty. I have been racking my brain to figure out why it hasn’t been called. I suppose I can forgive the ref live, a lot of stuff happens on a free kick I guess, but that is literally what VAR is there for. No excuses, it was missed, and Gabriel shared his frustration after the game as well.
For anyone feeling their blood relentlessly boiling over the course of the ninety minutes, they got an extra dose of anger late when Xhaka drove toward the endline and his cutback pass made clear contact with Danny Murphy’s arm. An immediate penalty shout from everyone in red, an Arteta on the sidelines punching the air with windmill swings of rage, and nothing from the referees. Personally, I’m torn about this incident. It’s definitely not as clear cut as the Gabriel incident, in my opinion, but you see them called. If you told me that incident is called in the 55th minute but not in the 90th minute, I could believe it, and all of that is a recipe for a frustrating way to drop two points.
Where the conflicting points come is the dissection of the stats and level of play Arsenal produced against a team that is respectably playing its way to third place at the moment. Arsenal dominated the territory, they controlled 67% of the ball, they produced 17 shots — although struggled to get enough on frame — and they produced more than a handful of danger moments in which they couldn’t quite find the shot. Defensively they handled most of Newcastle’s forays forward well and dealt with set pieces cleanly.
This is where the performance left me bouncing back and forth. Arsenal had their chances, they had chances taken away from them and were a little sloppy with the final piece. Arsenal proved they are good yet again but not quite good enough to win on the day. That starting eleven showed an ability to dominate and control the third place team, the depth is becoming a real concern.
In the end, this is life at the top of the table where margins are so tight, and as frustrating as the result was to watch unfold, this team needs to channel their anger to drive themselves forward. You can’t help but feel it was two points dropped given the control Arsenal had, but there is too much of the season left to get hung up on this result.
A few quick hit takeaways:
Good, not good enough
Easy to say, but if Arsenal score two goals, get the penalty call, keep the clean sheet — something they very possibly do against other teams in the league playing like that — we aren’t feeling as down about how they played. We talked about what the team produced and on a lot of evenings this team converts this dominance into a goal and result. Unfortunately, as a team, Arsenal are entering that level of demands in which teams are willing to strike out for a single point and Arsenal can’t afford as many days off. In the end, I’m left feeling Arsenal were good but not quite good enough against their third place quality competition.
1 point versus 3rd Place
Hand in hand with the previous point, is the fact that a point versus the third place team in the league is far from the worst result. These matches are always tight margins, almost always a fight, and collecting points against top teams should be viewed as a positive. It’s hard to believe that this league has become such an arms race that you’re forced to question whether Arsenal will regret not getting the job done because it’s going to prevent them from reach 95 to 100 points. A very conflicting, but harsh reality of the league with Manchester City and Pep Guardiola in it.
21 games to go
As a dose of reality, Arsenal fans should be reminding themselves there are 21 more matches to be played. On one hand, that leaves plenty of games left to gain points and on the other hands, that’s a lot of time to let form slip or leak points. The halfway point of each season feels like a major landmark given what it often means for the table’s volatility, but there is a lot of this race to run. Keep running, Arsenal. 63 points are still up for grabs. The big games are coming and will keep coming for everyone. A difficult challenge was had and a point was added to the tally.
Depth in serious question
When a team like Arsenal fails to put the ball in the back of the net and one of five available subs are used, and it’s a defensive sub at that, it’s going to raise questions. When you compound that with that fact that Arsenal’s attacking depth is already a touchy subject, it’s impossible not to feel like something is off. After the match, Arteta said, “Listen, we were on top of them, we were chasing the goal. We were in a good moment and I didn’t want to make more changes.”
He’s the boss, he knows what he wants, and his response isn’t false, but a making only a single defensive substitution makes a statement: there isn’t an attacker on the bench to be a difference maker. In a long season with many more tricky fixtures to navigate, an FA Cup, and an important Europa League competition, something has to support. Interesting to see how the club maximizes their window.
Frustrating result with a performance that leaves you with conflicting feelings. Arsenal can’t afford to have a draw derail their season. A major North London Derby is coming up next.