Newcastle United came into Sunday’s contest having won their last three matches, and taking 10 out of a possible 15 points. Their form in 2018 has taken them from relegation zone to the top half of the Premier League table. They’ve played scintillating football in many matches, while holding down an effective defensive strategy. Newcastle’s run of matches, including earlier upsets of Manchester United and Leicester City, have galvanised a fan-base hungry for a team of which they can be proud.
The Toon Army hosted Arsenal this past weekend, who hadn’t lost in their last six across all competitions. Though Arsenal has had a rough season by their own standards, they are still a top six side, with purchasing power far beyond Newcastle’s. Arsenal have looked a better side since the acquisition of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was likely to unsettle the Toon’s backline due to his quality, technique, and pace. Even with Arsenal playing a fuller squad in Moscow mid-week, it was still expected Arsenal would handle business at St. James’ Park, where they had not lost since 2005.
Despite the expected hardships, Newcastle United put forth another incredible effort and defeated Arsenal 2-1, their 2nd win against a top foe this season. The first half started with Arsenal applying heavy pressure in the Newcastle end, as expected. A ball played over the top into the path of the pacy Aubameyang undid Newcastle and led to the first goal by another dangerous Arsenal striker, Alexandre Lacazette.
Strangely, the goal seemed to settle Newcastle down, a major byproduct of which was Jonjo Shelvey starting to unlock a weakened Arsenal back-line with his superb long-range passing. In fact it was a long-range pass from Shelvey in the 29th minute which ignited the Black & White offence for their first goal. A crisp pass to the feet of Dwight Gayle allowed him to lay off for DeAndre Yedlin in stride; Yedlin’s cross found the path of Ayoze Perez, who beat Petr Cech at the near post.
After a couple of close calls at the end of the first half, including close range chances for Calum Chambers and Premier League debutante Joseph Willock, Newcastle were lucky to end the first half tied. The second half, however, began with Newcastle players and fans feeling like the home side could go on and win this match. This thinking was confirmed by the 63rd minute substitution of Dwight Gayle for striker Islam Slimani.
Slimani was able to make a great impact almost immediately for the second straight game (ineligible against Leicester City). It was his pressure and powerful header deep in the Arsenal final third which Perez was able to back heel to the lurking Matt Ritchie, who chipped Cech for Newcastle’s second. Slimani almost assisted on a third, playing Kenedy through on goal, although his effort was deflected onto the crossbar.
The end of the match saw Rafa Benitez bring on Joselu and Jacob Murphy in an effort to press the Arsenal backline in the final moments. Matured over the course of the season, and wise to the ways of icing a match, Newcastle were able to hold off any late-time dramatics and come away with their 4th straight win.
Who Showed Up:
I thought Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka had another fine performance this week, and was hung out to dry on Arsenal’s goal. He otherwise commanded the box excellently and his distribution was positive yet again.
Besides the opening 14 minutes, I thought the backline was up-to-snuff. Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune didn’t have the best game distribution-wise, but were still their dominating selves after the only concession, and should be credited for their work against Aubameyang and Lacazette. I thought Paul Dummett played a fine shift yesterday and I have no criticism for him, but simply put DeAndre Yedlin was the best on the backline yesterday and one of the Men of the Match for me.
Mohamed Diame has been quiet the last two matches, but he isn’t losing his effectiveness. Jonjo Shelvey has been playing his socks off and is looking like the player Newcastle wanted when they bought him, and that England sorely need in Russia. Another MOTM-type performance for me. Kenedy had an up-and-down game, but his late game discipline is what kept him on for 90 minutes. Matt Ritchie had a great all-around match and is becoming something of a big-game scorer. Great day for him.
Ayoze Perez notched a goal and an assist on the day and was another candidate for MOTM. Not Dwight Gayle‘s best day offensively, but his work in making intelligent runs, getting on the end of long-range Shelvey passes, and link-up play has kept him in the side. Big shout to Islam Slimani, who has continued to be a positive catalyst off the bench and has been a huge late-game sub when available.
Benitez finally conceded he thinks the Toon are safe for next year, and I don’t think you’ll find anyone who will disagree with the gaffer. That said, he’s fighting for transfer targets, money to spend, and most importantly, his right to manage his way, whether under the Mike Ashley regime or under new management. If you think he’s going to coast these final few games, you must not know Rafa Benitez.
While the final Europa League spot seems out of range, as Burnley has been on a tear themselves, Newcastle United are two points behind 8th place. With 8th place Leicester City struggling in form, Newcastle could make the jump as early as next week with a win away at 9th placed Everton, who have only collected 5 points from their last 5 games themselves. It is an interesting and exciting time for supporters of the Toon everywhere, and next week cannot come soon enough. Howay The Lads!