Kenedy subbed as Rafa shows ruthless streak in another loss
Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2
NEWCASTLE United remain winless so far in 2018/19 after the Magpies fell to a 2-1 defeat against Arsenal at St James’ Park.
For the fourth time this season, Newcastle lost to a so-called ‘Big Six’ side by a 2-1 scoreline, though in truth the Magpies never looked like getting anything out of the game as soon as they fell behind in the 49th minute.
Rafa Benitez’s men dominated the first half, but failed to turn their pressure into goals, and it took a wonderful Granit Xhaka free-kick after the interval to break the deadlock.
The Gunners then took control of the game, with Mesut Ozil grabbing Arsenal’s second, before substitute Ciaran Clark nodded in a consolation goal during injury time.
Here, NUFC Writer Chris Waugh takes us through what we learned from a disappointing afternoon at St James’ Park...
1. NEWCASTLE GO ON THE OFFENSIVE - BUT THEIR ‘SHORT BLANKET’ IS EXPOSED
Shelvey didn’t start against Arsenal
Ahead of the game, much of the talk centred around how Newcastle would approach tactics following two defensive displays against Chelsea and Manchester City. During those matches, Benitez played with a five-man backline and Newcastle retreated into a solid defensive unit as soon as they lost the ball.
But Benitez promised that he would change his approach against Arsenal; and, from the first minute, it was evident that the Newcastle manager had stuck to his word.
The Newcastle defence stood a further 30 yards up the pitch and pressed far higher than they have all season.
Petr Cech’s fallibility in possession was something the Magpies forwards targeted during the first 45 minutes, with Ayoze Perez, Joselu and Jacob Murphy forcing the Arsenal defence to concede corners and free-kicks due to their hesitant nature.
Isaac Hayden and Mo Diame also took it in turns to advance forward and get into the area, while Murphy repeatedly exploited the vast space which Hector Bellerin vacated every time the Arsenal right-back attacked.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, their excellent all-round play during the first half was not complemented by a killer touch in the final third.
And, once Arsenal took the lead thanks to Xhaka’s majestic free-kick, the Gunners were able to exploit the gaps in United’s defensive shape.
Benitez regularly cites the so-called ‘short blanket’ when his approach to games is questioned, and clearly Newcastle found themselves exposed.
There is a brittleness about United at - Newcastle’s Kenedy bursts forward the moment, something we have not seen from the Magpies since before the summer of 2016.
2. KENEDY FINDS HIMSELF THE VICTIM OF RAFA’S RUTHLESS SIDE
While there were doubts over the fitness of Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey - and even though Benitez faced a key decision over whether to play both DeAndre Yedlin and Salomon Rondon given their international exploits - the most surprising team news did not involve any of that quartet.
There was no Shelvey in the starting