Arsenal 0-1 Newcastle: Sub Par

Arsenal have lost twice at home this season, both times to newly promoted sides. West Brom a few weeks ago and Newcastle yesterday – and both times we got exactly what we deserved from each game. Nothing.

In terms of the performance it’s right up there with the very worst in recent times. The capitulation at Wigan was horrible but this was at home, after a midweek Champions League defeat, with the manager talking about how we’d learn the lessons. Again. And once more we lacked precision, energy, creativity and, most damning of all, the fight to scrap out a result when playing poorly.

Tim Krul was troubled once, making a fantastic save from a Nasri shot. Cesc’s free kick hit the bar, as did Theo Walcott early in the second half but that was the extent of our attacking threat. Newcastle defended well and played some good football at times. Many sides come to the Grove and find it difficult to keep the ball but they didn’t. They were aided and abetted by our lack of pressure and the fact that to a man we seemed caught on our heels throughout.

Flappy flapping flappity flap flap
He came, he saw, he cocked up ...

Anything that went into their penalty area was headed out and, while I don’t have a stat at hand, I would guess than 95% of the time they were alert and alive to the second ball as it dropped. We stood off and watched. As such we never got any momentum going, we never built any period of sustained pressure bar a few moments early in the second half and the introductions of Arshavin and Robin van Persie around the hour mark seemed to put an end to that.

The manager doesn’t normally make changes that early so while you can to say at least he tried something, the something didn’t work. Robin van Persie was ‘rushed back’, according to the manager who said afterwards he was ‘not ready’. So you have to wonder why, if he was making a change, he didn’t use the much more ready Nicklas Bendtner. A Cesc header late on was as much as we could muster and that was that.

So, their goal and for me it’s a Fabianski error. Credit to him for doing well in recent games but this was a mistake that cost us the game. When Barton’s free kick was floated in he came for it, obviously gave his defenders the shout and didn’t get it, allowing Carroll to nod home. For me it was a weak effort, he had to be stronger. Afterwards Arsene said:

It was not a technical mistake it was a problem of timing and he thought maybe he wouldn’t be challenged. That’s how it looked from the outside.

If timing isn’t considered part of the technicality of being a good goalkeeper then there’s something wrong with the way we’re teaching our keepers. Yes, the whole team played poorly, but a goalkeeping mistake has gifted them the game. As little as we created they did even less. Andy Carroll might well be a ‘handful’, in the manager’s own words, but neither he, nor any other Newcastle player, forced the keeper into a save. There was a late free kick from Barton but that was it.

So without that mistake we’d have taken at least a point. Sure, Fabianski has done well since coming into the team but yesterday’s flap was a reminder that he is a goalkeeper prone to making costly mistakes and yesterday’s was very costly indeed. I’m not suggesting it’s entirely his fault, the whole team played poorly, but at the top level you get punished for errors like that and so we were.

It’s clear as well that the team is struggling to find any kind of consistency in terms of performance. When we click we’re excellent – the Shaktar game at home an example of that – but when it doesn’t go right we really find it difficult. The West Ham win a little over a week ago was far from convincing and the two most recent performances have been very poor. Physically yesterday we looked far from sharp, Newcastle had much more zip about them, and that’s a worry.

Nothing Cesc tried seem to come off although he did hit the bar, set up Nasri’s chance and have that late header, so even on one of his off days he did more than most. The creative responsibility is not his alone though and nobody else seemed able to step up and help out. The late goal that we’re so accustomed to seeing at home never came and never looked like coming either. The day was rounded off with our 4th red card of the season after Mike Dean sent off Koscielny for hauling down Lone Ranger. He might have been a good way from goal but I don’t really have any complaints, we’d have wanted the Newcastle player gone if it had happened at the other end. Koscielny now misses two games through suspension.

Afterwards Arsene said:

Our home form is a concern because against Birmingham and West Ham they were struggling wins. Overall I still believe we were very unlucky to lose the game. They had one shot on target and that was their goal. We never found the second gear.

You know, if the Newcastle goal had come via a wicked deflection which wrong-footed the keeper then we might claim to be unlucky, but Fabianski’s mistake is compounded by the fact that too often we allow the opposition to score with their first chance. Birmingham was the same, wasn’t it? Zigic’s header was their first attempt on target and it happens time and time again. It’s not bad luck, it’s a congenital weakness running through this Arsenal side. As for not finding the second gear we hardly found first.

Why are we talking about a lack of sharpness at this stage of the season? The midweek performance was poor, we knew we had to react yesterday yet didn’t. We were helped out a little bit yesterday when Liverpool beat Chelsea meaning the gap between us and the leaders remains the same but unless we can find some consistency, and fast, we’d be better off watching the gap between us and the chasing pack than the one at the top of the table. This isn’t a team displaying title winning credentials at the moment and it’s quite worrying how easily our flaws are being exposed.

There’s no time to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves though, we’ve got to pick things up and prepare for what will be a tricky game at Wolves on Wednesday evening. We need to see a reaction, some pride in the shirt and a lot more effort. Wolves will be smarting from their late defeat at United on Saturday and will hardly be too worried about facing us right now based on what they’ve seen in recent games. The manager’s got a lot of work to do to turn things around because right now we’re in very poor shape and more than many teams we seem to take our time getting out of funks like this. More on that game to come in the next couple of days.

In other news it seems Aaron Ramsey is set to make his comeback tonight playing for the reserves against Everton. Good news, but I’d urge as much caution as possible. We all want to see him back but we need only look at Abou Diaby to see how the fallout from serious injury can blight a promising career. Diaby was the same age as Ramsey when he was crocked by Dan Smith and has never been the same player.

I’m told that there are very serious concerns about him and his future right now. The manager spoke the other day about not knowing when he might play again and it seems his ankle is in very bad shape indeed. There doesn’t appear to be any immediate solution to the problem and certainly no suggestion that a return to the team is imminent, if it happens at all. Fingers crossed for him but it’s not looking good.

And this is why we have to take such care with Ramsey. It’d be horrible to see him go through the same things Diaby has, the constant niggling injuries since his serious one, and what was a promising career heading for an unhappy and unfortunate end.

None of which makes for a particularly upbeat Monday morning blog but there you go.

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