Newcastle United – Arsenal: One For Sorrow, Two For Joy (2-0)
Arsenal’s destiny was still in their hands before kickoff in the two horse race to get back into the Champions League, but their hosts were in no mood to underwhelm an expectant crowd. The Magpies honed the role of jokers to spoil an ideal script: will the process be all for nothing?
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
In 90 minutes, the outlook of Arsenal’s season might have flipped on its head. North London, the heart of the contest for fourth spot, was host to a derby fixture where the red camp in the capital could have sealed the deal on enemy ground. Instead, Spurs demonstrated their metal to take this race down to the wire. A six point swing between the rivals has forced Arsenal back out of the final Champions League berth. But all is not lost. Should they win their last two games, Mikel Arteta’s men will win the war.
The first hurdle they must clear is a sleeping giant on the rise. At the end of 2021, Newcastle United were two points off of safety. Thanks to their form during 2022, fears of the drop have abated. Nearly quadrupling their points haul in the new year, only three clubs have picked up more than them in that period. The Saudi owners, shelling out £83 million on winter signings for Eddie Howe, have been a catalyst for change: scalping the guests would again indicate their ambition ahead of next campaign.
Howe’s starting eleven has significantly altered since the last clash between these two clubs. Bruno Guimarães, Dan Burn, and Matt Targett, all arrivals in the new year, featured in this lineup, while Kieran Trippier was an option from the bench. His other winter purchase, Chris Wood, made way for Callum Wilson to make his first start for the club in 2022. The other alteration to the team that lost 5-0 last time out away to Manchester City was at the back, where Fabian Schär replaced Jamal Lascelles.
Arteta rotated his outfit to bounce back from the derby defeat. Ben White came back into the fold for the first time in almost a month, filling the hole Rob Holding had opened off the back of his red card and suspension. Takehiro Tomiyasu returned to the right of the back four in place of Cédric Soares, so Nuno Tavares played at left back. Further afield, Gabriel Martinelli had dropped to the bench, giving Emile Smith Rowe his first chance to feature from the off since the 3-1 win over Manchester United.
Newcastle take the game to Arsenal
In the reverse fixture at the Emirates Stadium, Howe went for a conservative strategy. He deployed his men in a 4-4-2 block, where Ryan Fraser sat off to track the advances of Tavares to form a back five. Half a year later, the Newcastle manager was not intent on affording Arsenal the same level of respect. Their 4-3-3 formation pushed up to the edge of Arsenal’s box from many goal kicks, where Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny dropped to create a double pivot in front of Aaron Ramsdale.
Eddie Howe was super proud of his team after the win against Arsenal.— DStv Ghana (@DStv_Ghana) May 17, 2022
This shows how far this team has come, since their struggles earlier in the season. #Newcastle #NEWARS #Arsenal #DStvGhana #UnbeatableFootball pic.twitter.com/NbPBVqjFpH
The intensity and physicality of the hosts bullied Arsenal. Ramsdale could not connect to the pivot, prompting longer balls to the left side of the buildup structure. The axis of Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard was the primary, albeit fleeting threat in the final third, but rhythm was absent in their play.
Lethargic leadership from the front
The other main problem Arteta’s men faced was off the ball. The pressing has tended to set the tone for how well or poorly they have performed, especially in fixtures away from home. The away team worked from their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, where Ødegaard initially marked Bruno Guimarães. They rely on either arcuate pressing from Saka with a shifting last line or Ødegaard jumping forward with support from a member of the double pivot to close down the second central defender in a back four.
3rd minute: An example of Guimarães’ dismarking. Once Tomiyasu forces Saint-Maximin away from goal, Ødegaard moves back to mark Guimarães. The midfielder slips into Ødegaard’s blindside, then demands the ball from Burn. His opposite man cannot jump the defender immediately, while Nketiah cannot lurk near Schär. Burn and Schär can then drop with much time and space to restart the attack.
Yet, at the midway point of the first half, Howe’s men had dominated possession, controlling 63% of the ball. Neither of Arsenal’s patterns worked. They rarely triggered the first mechanism with Saka, so Ødegaard sought to make up the shortfall from the front. If the attacking midfielder did move higher to press Dan Burn or Fabian Schär, Guimarães cleverly broke free out of his cover shadow. Chances were few and far between for Newcastle, but they were the happier of the two outfits by half time.
Contentment soon became ecstasy. In the 55th minute, Allan Saint-Maximin received the ball on the left flank, luring out Cédric. He slid a long line pass into the path of Joelinton, whose underlap got the better of Elneny. A drilled delivery toward Wilson indicated danger to which White was alert, but in an attempt to clear up the cross, the center-back bagged his first goal for Arsenal— in the wrong net.
Arteta’s adjustments fail to faze the hosts
If they were not already, ringing alarm bells from the away dugout prompted more activity. Just past the hour mark, Tavares came off for Alexandre Lacazette. Nketiah and Lacazette formed a front two in a 3-5-2 shape, where Martinelli now became the width holder on the left wing. In the 73rd minute, a third and final substitution led to another redistribution of roles. Nicolas Pépe entered the fray on the right flank, shifting Saka to the left of Ødegaard in the middle of the park. Gabriel departed the field, so Xhaka had dropped onto the left of the back three to operate as a ball progressor in the halfspace.
At this stage of the game, Arsenal’s principles were still on show. From the right, Ødegaard dropped a little deeper and outward, taking the attention of Joelinton. This rotation was a cue for Lacazette to offer a line breaking option in the right halfspace while Pépé threatened on the flank. With an extra option inside Newcastle’s 4-5-1 block, the structure held potential on the left to ignite combination play with Xhaka splitting the lines from deep. But the guests still came up short in the final third.
81st minute: offensive sequence from Arsenal. Facing no frontal pressure on the edge of his penalty area, Xhaka drives diagonally inward with the ball towards the center circle while Saka temporarily occupies the left flank. His orientation draws Guimarães centrally to block the passing lane into the path of Lacazette, whose dropping movement inside Joelinton and one-two combination shift the block laterally. Murphy jumps to cover outward access to Saka, letting Xhaka find Nketiah inside.
Nearing the final ten minutes of the allotted time, Jacob Murphy and Ryan Fraser had come on for Saint-Maximin and Almirón. Howe felt no need to introduce new men deeper on the pitch to sit on the goal lead. The flow of the game soon vindicated his decision. In the 84th minute, Joelinton forced White to block his effort on the edge of the box before Ramsdale smothered Wilson from close range. Aptly, it was a black and white shirt that picked up the pieces. Guimarães, a man persistently linked to Arsenal in the winter window, slotted a strike past a frantically sliding Cédric on the goal line. 2-0.
Bruno Guimaraes has won the approval of Newcastle co-owner Amanda Staveley and the entire fan base 🤝 pic.twitter.com/EnRq2PnM7K— GOAL (@goal) May 16, 2022
Only Liverpool have taken more points at home than Newcastle United since the start of the year. Fervently supporting their club at St. James’ Park in the dark times, one can only imagine how the fans must feel right now about the developments on the pitch. To take three points from an outfit in the top six is a feat per their progress: soon, they will aspire to compete with such clubs as the norm.
Conversely, the display from Arsenal was more of what they have shown since the start of April. The absences of Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney have thrown the outfit out of sync, robbing the system of its harmony. Whether the manager’s approaches have been correct or not in the last six weeks, the strains of putting his faith in a squad free from European football mandate much work in the summer.
Many permutations favored Arsenal ending up in fourth place just a week ago. Now, it looks as if this defeat has consigned their return to the Champions League to a waiting period of at least one more year. Arteta’s men must win against Everton and hope that Norwich City claim their fourth Premier League victory in the new year if this race takes one final, dramatic turn. Their prospects are bleak.
We decided to make this article free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.
Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.