For the last time this season, Newcastle got St James’ Park ready to host a Premier League game before it enters hibernation for a couple of months this summer. The lads from Wor Flags did an impressive job, the crowd was absolutely stunning, Arsenal were caught by surprise, and the Magpies scored themselves a very nice bag of points on Monday Night Football.
When the Starting XIs dropped one hour before the game, the selections from both managers made sense—assuming everybody was fit enough to play. The most interesting decisions were definitely going to be those surrounding Arsenal’s shaky defensive line, which Arteta build around a rested Ben White and a not-so-rested Gabriel Magalhaes, and the expected Tomiyasu and Tavares on the flanks.
Eddie didn’t pull off any crazy decision other than bringing back Fabian Schar after he missed the clash against City, leaving Kieran Trippier on the bench, and starting Callum Wilson for the first time this calendar year at the top of the scheme.
The game started nicely for Newcastle as they seem to be in full control of the pace from the get-go. Tamed passing, slow but solid build-up play, and a total lack of rushed balls around the pitch defined the first minutes of the game until a great pressuring effort by Almirón saw the first chance arrive for the Magpies not even with 10 minutes on the clock.
The underlying concept that works wonders for Newcastle, as I have highlighted in the past, is using Wilson at the front given his quickness, speed, and ability to exploit free spaces. With Howe’s system and approach to games, playing someone as the oft-underperforming Chris Wood makes little to no sense as he’s got a diametrically opposed profile to those of Saint-Maximin, Almirón, and Bruno, the striker’s main suppliers of balls.
By the 20th minute, Joelinton had already shown his full arsenal (no pun intended) of tricks. He was putting on heavy pressure on a play-by-play basis, recovering balls all around the pitch (four total in that time), and creating from the half-back position for Newcastle. It’s absolutely insane to think this man was brought to the squad to score goals and to see him excel at building up plays and disrupting—without any wrongdoing—the opposition play. Saka had a couple of interesting moves around this moment of the match, but in all honesty, that’s all Arsenal mustered in the first half when it came to their attack.
For someone as criticized as Eddie Howe has been because of his incompetence at playing head-to-head football against Big Six squads, this was a tremendous masterclass and a football clinic. He outsmarted fellow coach Mikel Arteta playing a quick front with an Arsenal backline clearly not fit enough to sustain a steady high-demand defensive effort. Howe’s tactics limited Arsenal to just 82 accurate passes in the first half, only 25 of them in Newcastle’s half. Smith Rowe touched the ball 10 times in the mid-and-final thirds of the pitch through the first 45 minutes, and Eddie Nketiah’s furthest touch was barely past midfield.
Saint-Maximin, who drove Tomiyasu crazy all night long until the latter had to be subbed out with an injury (Cedric went in), had a phenomenal rushing play in which he got a ball from Joelinton, carried it forward, dribbled past Tomi cutting inside just on the edge of the penalty area, only for Aaron Ramsdale to block his shot attempt on goal from just inside of the outlined zone. Yesterday marked ASM’s best game in a good while, and he was extremely unplayable through all of his minutes on the pitch.
The second half started nicely for Newcastle, still in complete control of the game and forcing Arteta’s hand to substitute Smith Rowe out to bring Gabriel Martinelli in. It made sense for Arsenal considering the ineffectiveness of ESR on the left-wing, barely touching the ball and contributing to Arsenal’s offensive phase. Watching how Saka extracted something from the Gunners' innocent attack, it was obvious that playing Martinelli from the start would have been the better plan instead of going with an out-of-place Smith Rowe.
And 10 minutes into the second period, the seemingly rested Ben White—who missed the 3-0 trouncing of Arsenal by Tottenham to be fit for yesterday’s game—put the ball inside his own net after Joelinton destroyed a backtracking Elneny and Wilson outpaced the two Arsenal center-backs to get into a magnificent position to strike the ball in. Couldn’t be, though, as it was White who did him the favor. This was a marvelous play by Joelinton as he started his run behind the midfield line along with Wilson’s rush forward to make a wonderful play.
After Arsenal finally surrender a much-deserved goal by Newcastle, all hell broke loose for the Gunners are Arteta who seemed completely befuddled by the situation and had no solutions to what had been and would keep coming. Tavares, the only kinda-good player on Arsenal’s front, was sent to the bench to put Alex Lacazette in. The proverbial move was removing an impactless Nketiah, but Arteta opted to load on strikers by weakening the wings and playmaking of his team and reshaping the squad into a 3-5-2 formation a la Conte with Saka and Martinelli playing complete wing-back roles and the trio of Xhaka-White-Magalhaes in front of their penalty area.
Emil Krafth, Sean Longstaff, and Miguel Almiron kept up their frenetic activity chasing balls backward and carrying them forward when in possession, and after a long, not-so-threatening attempt by Elneny in the 71st minute Newcastle’s dynamos combined on the right flank of the pitch to serve Wilson with a fantastic ball to the right of the penalty spot that was close to ending on the back of the net for the 2-0 in favor of the Magpies. Wasn’t meant to be.
After a bunch of substitutions that left the Gunners even more broken between their front and their back men, and the comeback of Ryan Fraser for Newcastle (with Jacob Murphy also making it to the pitch), the game was pretty much over already. The latter two substitutions had a great chance on a two-on-one run around the 80th minute only for Ramsdale to block Murphy’s shot deflecting it to his left and a corner kick.
Wilson followed that chance with a ridiculously long shot that went centimeters wide of getting in, and Bruno capped the night with an 84th-minute goal that sealed the victory and guaranteed Newcastle three more points and the 12th position in the Premier League table with one more game to go next Sunday away at Burnley.
As Arteta himself put it after the game: “Newcastle were ten times better than us and fully deserved the match.”