When the Arsenal lineup was announced for their Premier League game at Newcastle on Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice how the Arsenal universe was now in full-on reverso mode.
Once upon a time, the league used to be the only thing that mattered to a young French manager who arrived in London with grand ideas about how the game should really be played.
Fast forward more than two decades and there is a different manager in charge at Arsenal, an older Frenchman set in his ways. He finds himself picking a League Cup side for the league because he couldn’t win the League Cup or the league but needs to win the one competition he didn’t even want to be in, in order to stay at a club everyone else wants him to leave.
Of course I understand the logic behind the lineup at Newcastle, this isn’t a dig at that. I just thought it was worth mentioning.
Something else worth mentioning is David Ospina on the bench. Although he’s returning from injury and wouldn’t have expected to be called into action, you have to believe he was fit enough to play. That he didn’t might hint strongly that Wenger plans to play him against Atletico Madrid in the first leg which is a terrifying thought. Petr Cech has his faults, but while he is merely capable of epic fuck-ups, they are expected from Dave with his brick hands.
As I write that, I am reminded of a time not that long ago when I could find the positive in even the worst Arsenal player and focus on that. I could often be found promoting the benefits of such stellar stars Denilson, Bendtner or even Carlos Vela. I believed the hype around them, drunk the kool aid from the club and wanted to see nothing but awesomeness in the team i supported.
I’ve come a long way since then.
Perhaps I’ve merely grown-up. Finally.
Or maybe it’s because there’s only so many times you can be fooled before you have to eventually catch a grip of yourself.
It was tempting to believe that Arsenal had turned a corner until you realise we are now in April and are the only club in all four English divisions that haven’t won a game away from home, losing the last five.
We didn’t win in Moscow either, if you remember.
Aubazette, the striking duo that are apparently so similar they can’t play together combined beautifully to crack a Newcastle defence that has held strong in 2018. Auba’s touch and Laca’s finish complemented each other perfectly.
One long ball over the top of Mustafi’s head was all that was needed to undo what had been a relatively solid display from Arsenal until that point. It’s a simple tactic that never fails and Rafa Benitez is the sort of manager who notices those sort of things. Fact.
As if to emphasise everything I’d written above about keepers before the match started, Cech was once again beaten at his near post.
The commentators praised the home support’s approval of the Newcastle players’ hard work. In Newcastle, unlike at any other city in world football, they want their players to give 100% apparently. Craziness. But if Arsenal had been hoping their historic record against Newcastle would help them out in this game despite the Rafa-inpired belief in their belly, they were sorely mistaken.
Newcastle’s second was another example of terrible defending, this time fromr Nacho Monreal along with Mustafi, of course. Earlier in the game, the commentator on Sky Sports had pondered Mustafi being in two minds but it’s hard to be in two when you don’t even have one. What Monreal was doing I have no idea, either. I think it was to spite me for hailing him as one of this season’s highlights in a post out on Monday night.
The rest of the match played out in an all-too-familiar pattern.
Arsenal tried to break through Newcastle’s bus, the Magpies tried to hit the Gunners on the break. With Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Burnley all up next, it’s something we’re going to see a lot of before the season finally does us all a favour and kills itself.
Normally in defeat I would find myself moaning about the ref, but he was an irrelevance against Newcastle. Anthony Taylor did what Anthony Taylor does and got most of the important calls wrong. The handball in the box, the studs up on Lacazette and so on. He never changes, never improves and is never required to as PGMOL hail him as one of the best in their stable. I guess that isn’t really saying much. But this result was nothing to do with him.
In truth, this was the sort of display we’ve come to expect from Arsenal away from home and more proof of this reverso world we find ourselves in. At the end of a campaign, Arsenal usually show what they struggled to find at the start. They always pull themselves together to achieve something at the end of the season, be it a top four slot or a bit of silverware while crashing out of Europe.
This season, it’s the opposite. Domestically, the recovery switch is broken and all hopes rest on Europe.
The calibre of opposition in that competition changes on Thursday night but it is the following Thursday we should really fear. Teams at the bottom of the Premier League have given us a torrid time away from home. Arsenal have lost their last five league games away, including against Newcastle, Swansea, Brighton and Bournemouth.
What fresh humiliation awaits at the home of a team not far off the top of La Liga?