1. Adapting to a new manager takes time for both the players and the fans.
The lads in black and white looked sharp early on in the game as both Arsenal and Newcastle were getting a feel for each other. There were plenty of moments early that could have swung the game in either direction; Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton both came close, while Mkhitaryan blasted a wonderful opportunity into the stands.
As the game wore on, Arsenal became more comfortable, while Newcastle’s plan seemingly dissipated. With Jonjo Shelvey coming off, there was quite a bit of confusion about which player would occupy which space. Steve Bruce then added to the confusion by taking off a second central midfielder off in favor of Allan Saint-Maximin. This switch saw Matt Ritchie slot in as a central midfielder for the first time in his Newcastle tenure. While it was odd, trying out a familiar player in a different position is not all too uncommon for new managers.
After Newcastle began trailing, Steve Bruce instructed his players to press high up the pitch with Ritchie and Hayden playing much closer to the front three. It made sense to do so given Arsenal’s error prone midfield and defense, but it certainly felt weird for the players. At times, the players looked a little confused about when to coordinate the press, and it ended up being mildly effective.
Having watched an incredibly predictable Rafa Benitez side for three years, watching Steve Bruce command his players was quite the spectacle for fans. Steve Bruce offered a glimpse of his tactical preferences, but from the looks of it, there is plenty more to see.
2. Joelinton is unlike the strikers we have had in the past few years.
After taking the #9 jersey that had previously belonged to Rondon, Joelinton will likely be compared to the Venezuelan for much of this season and understandably so. Choosing a striker to sign was one of the main points of conflict between Rafa and Lee Charnley. However, the comparison is not as neat as one would expect given the tall, strong frame of the two strikers.
Today’s match is early evidence that Joelinton does not have much else in common with Rondon. While Rondon relies heavily on strength and power, Joelinton relies primarily on technique. Although Joelinton did not get on the scoresheet today, he had an incredibly promising debut filled with nice touches and good link-up play.
If you absolutely insist on comparing Joelinton to a past Newcastle striker, Demba Ba probably makes most sense. Like Demba Ba, Joelinton has decent pace, a good touch, and a predilection for being involved in the build up play. Of course, Demba Ba’s game was much more polished than Joelinton’s, but let’s not forget that the Senegalese striker was much older when he joined on a free transfer.
3. With Perez gone, the heaviest burden now falls on Almiron.
If today’s match is anything to go off of, it looks like Steve Bruce prefers a 3-5-2 with a front two of Joelinton and Almiron. Before Allan Saint-Maximin came on, Almiron was essentially the only player making runs in behind or running at the defense with the ball. There was just too much attacking responsibility placed on Almiron going forward, and since only Joelinton and Almiron regularly found themselves in that portion of the pitch, Arsenal was able to devote a lot of attention to containing the Paraguayan.
While the Newcastle lineup does look its strongest with the midfield trio of Shelvey-Longstaff-Hayden, none of those players are capable of bombing forward and functioning as a viable third attacker. Shelvey and Longstaff can both pick out a killer pass, but in this current system, there’s only two players that could be on the receiving end. Neither of the aforementioned central midfielders can make that run to distract the defense or occupy the space created by Almiron or Joelinton.
At times today, you could see the Paraguayan raise both of his hands in frustration. With that said, if Steve Bruce sticks with this setup of only two true attackers, Almiron will be asked to do a lot with much of the opposition’s defense breathing down his neck as the season wears on.
4. Newcastle fans love themselves some mercurial wingers, and Allan Saint Maximin is an entertainer to the core.
Finding themselves behind, Newcastle eventually turned to Allan Saint Maximin for that extra boost in attack. As he was getting substituted onto the pitch, fans roared with excitement even though fan favorite Sean Longstaff was the one being taken off. After Manquillo did well to handle the ball and find space on the right, fans buzzed in anticipation of Allan Saint Maximin receiving the ball. It was a type of roar that hasn’t been heard since Almiron first made his debut earlier this year. Additionally, it brought back fond memories of Hatem Ben Arfa’s time with the club.
It’s been a long time since Newcastle has had a true mercurial winger. Even though it did not end well for Hatem Ben Arfa here at Newcastle, there’s hope that things will be different with Allan Saint Maximin. Despite not scoring today, Allan Saint Maximin did indeed introduce the Toon Army to his dance moves. After having a crack at goal, Allan Saint Maximin found himself on the ground, and he picked himself up in the most stylish fashion possible: a kip up.
5. The mini-honeymoon phase is well and truly over.
Newcastle’s offseason took a weird turn as the club shelled out big money in the transfer market. The excitement about the new recruits somewhat overshadowed what is Mike Ashley’s biggest mistake as owner of the club: the failure to retain Rafa Benitez. Seeing someone as committed to the betterment of Newcastle as Rafa Benitez leave was gut-wrenching for Newcastle fans. Soon after though, feelings of disappointment and anger towards Mike Ashley for letting this happen shifted to the periphery as exciting players like Joelinton and Allan Saint Maximin were recruited.
Although there is plenty of promise in the squad at Steve Bruce’s disposal, today’s match was a reminder that this season will be difficult. Newcastle will need to do better than how they did today if the club is to stay up at the end of the season. To excuse Newcastle’s performance today, many will cite the fact that Arsenal is a favorite for the fourth spot in the Premier League table. While that is true, the lineup that Arsenal fielded today is probably the weakest one Unai Emery will field all season. Many of Arsenal’s star players sat on the bench or watched from home today as the club’s young academy graduates took center stage. In addition, Arsenal’s form away from home, particularly in defense, has been woeful for quite some time. Newcastle had a real chance to get on the board against this weakened Arsenal side.