Starting XI: Cech, Chambers, Mustafi, Holding, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Willock, Iwobi, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Ospina, Maitland-Niles, Mertesacker, Kolasinac, Nelson, Welbeck, Nketiah
Newcastle United bounced back from Alexandre Lacazette’s early goal to beat Arsenal 2-1 as the Gunners terrible form on the road continued.
The two teams went into the break level after Ayoze Perez cancelled out the France international’s volley and it was the home side who found a winner when Matt Ritchie slotted past Petr Cech on 68 minutes.
The Gunner remain in sixth position in the Premier League but the gap on Burnley behind us is down to two points.
Arsenal arrived at St James Park looking to register their first away points of 2018. This year’s four previous defeats at Bournemouth, Swansea, Sp*rs and Brighton inflicted irreparable damage on our top four chances, however, it’s fair to say the mood has changed a bit since the early March trip to the AMEX. A seven-game unbeaten run has steadied the ship and seen us qualify for the Europa League semi-finals.
With the focus very much on Europe, rotation in the Premier League has been the norm. Having handed Reiss Nelson a first Premier League start last weekend, it was Joe Willock who got the nod for a full debut this time. The 18-year-old started in midfield in front of Mohamed Elneny and the returning Granit Xhaka. In attack, Iwobi and Aubemeyang flanked Lacazette. At the back, the boss brought in Holding and Chambers as he rested Koscielny and Bellerin.
While it was far from our strongest line-up, we looked sharp in possession from the off. The first chance fell to Lacazette who rushed and effort on 4 minutes and saw the ball dribble wide.
In response, Kenedy, on loan from Chelsea, tried his luck with a longe range drive that Cech collected with minimal fuss. Not long after the Brazilian left Lacazette in a crumpled heap with a horrible challenge on the Frenchman’s ankle. He didn’t even get a caution.
The former Lyon man took the best possible revenge by breaking the deadlock almost immediately. After a spell playing the ball across the backline, Mustafi launched a great ball from the halfway line over the top for Aubameyang. The Gabon striker, operating on the left flank, controlled, crossed to the far post and Lacazette volleyed home from a tight angle. It was a lovely goal. (1-0)
Arsenal looked in the mood and from our next attack we should have had a penalty. Aubameyang, cutting in from the left, fired goalwards with a rasping right-foot effort, it deflected over the bar. Replays showed clear contact with Lascelles’ hand but referee Anthony Taylor waved away our appeals.
Arsenal were bright in attack and might have added to their lead. Iwobi, wriggling free in the box, toe-poked an effort straight at Dubravka and Lascelles came close to putting through his own net trying to clear a Chambers cross from the right.
Newcastle looked most dangerous playing long balls over our defence – a tactic that was to pay dividends. Having survived an early warning, when Mustafi made a last ditch challenge on Gayle, Arsenal continued to allow the home side room to hoof passes forward. On 29 minutes, Shelvey launched another pass to Gayle, he held it up, laid the ball to Yedlin who crossed low for Perez to fire home first time. The movement was good but that doesn’t hide the fact that for the second week running, Cech was beaten at his near post after an attacker got in front of Mustafi at the near post. (1-1)
We regained our composure and really should have restored our lead before the break. Chambers had two chances, the first a snatched miss after a neat Mustafi headed cross and the latter a header over the bar from a corner. Not long after, Willock, played in by Lacazette, who probably should have shot himself, completely miscued an effort that drew howls of derision from the home fans. All in all, an entertaining half of football.
The Gunners may have had 80% possession in the opening 10 minutes of the second period, but the game turned into a very scrappy affair. While we laboured up the pitch, the home side were often too hasty.
Pot shots by Ritchie, high and wide, and Iwobi, wide, were the best either side could muster before Benitez and Wenger decided to freshen things up. Gayle, charged with running the channels and testing the pace of Chambers and Mustafi, was replaced by Slimani, who provided more of an aerial threat. The Gunners responded by sending on Danny Welbeck for Willock.
Immediately, the home side took the lead. A poor header by Monreal across the backline left the full-back out of place, when the ball was worked quickly by the Magpies to where he should have been, Ritchie was in loads of space to finish past Cech. (2-1)
Newcastle nearly had a third when Slimani’s shot deflected up and over Cech and onto the bar. The Algeria international then left Mustafi on the turf as he set up Perez, thankfully the Spaniard could only hit the side netting.
In search of an equaliser, Lacazette squandered a chance to set up Welbeck instead shooting wide from a tight angle. The England international was furious. Off went Iwobi and on came Nketiah. We had lots of firepower on the pitch, but with the home side sitting deep, we didn’t have the necessary creativity to manufacture any chances. It was all predictably limp by the time we got to stoppage time.
Taking the lead and losing. It’s a very common story away from home.