A little late on this one. Like Aubameyang arriving at the far post. But yesterday, aside from the match, was a Bacon Day. And, as we all know, that takes precedence over everything apart from an Arsenal game.
Did anyone notice that subtle difference in quality between Liverpool and Newcastle? It’s hard to discern at first I know. But suffice it to say, to the trained eye, there was a subtle drop in quality. Fortunately, as a student of the game, I was able to observe it and, for you, my dear reader, I will share my expertise with you. At no cost. Because that’s the kind of person I am. So, to move, because I’m sure you’re dying to hear the explanation. In laymen’s terms it basically comes down to this. Newcastle are shit. Truly shit. Not quite Sp*rs shit. I mean, that’s an entirely different species of shit. But shit nonetheless. I remember the 7-3 game at the Emirates when it thought they were crap then. But, they’ve managed to recruit even worse players and move down yet another level. Poor Howe. He will get millions to see them relegated. Maybe someone will give Bruce some credit for marshaling this crap team such that they were not relegated under his reign. So there you have it, scientifically proven. Newcastle are shit. And that’s the real difference between them and Liverpool.
But you can only beat what’s in front of you. And, unlike the past where we would find ways to foil ourselves, yesterday we earned our three points. Not that we were terrific. We did not fire on all cylinders. We were far from perfect. But that’s ok. Obviously, there will be concern over young Saka. After a miserable start to the season – by his high standards – we’ve began to see last year’s version emerge. And, in this game, we saw the full, original version. He was the difference maker. He tore Ritchie to shreds, he was our main creative influence and the scored of the first, all important goal. This came about because he was able to float around and create from anywhere on the front line. Without his energy, creativity and scoring I’m not sure we’d have won yesterday. And now we have to worry about the magnitude of his injury. I fear he won’t be in the team versus United for Thursday. But let’s hope we don’t lose him for too many games. I’m not sure I could bear seeing Pepe return to this team.
I’m not convinced that Partey has found his fitness yet either. Fortunately against a shit team he was not pushed too far but, he just seems slightly off thee pace. His distribution is uneven and his pace is reduced. Having said that, he’s one of the few players we have that will pass through the lines and play vertically. Odergaard also attempted to but he was largely ineffective. He works hard but his first touch failed him a couple of times. It made sense though that he replaced Cigarette; this was the type of game where his creativity should have helped – It just didn’t. If I was generous, which we all know I am more than generous – manganous even – then I’d note that this was his first full game for a month or two and he had to find his rhythm.
Tavares still made the team sheet. I think we all expected to see Tierney back. I suspect we’re trying to work Tesco boy back in slowly because of all his injuries and the condensed fixture period we’re about to enter. That or it was an inspired decision by Arteta to allow Tavares to find his confidence again after last weeks disaster. Tavares was dominant down the left. And, as the game wore on he learned not to shoot on site (and miss) but to lay the ball off. His hard work in the first half should have resulted in a goal but more on that later. Overall, it was great to see him run up and down the touchline. I thought he’d run out of steam at some point but, until the end he was continuing to defend as well. The way he handled Wilson’s run behind our lines from the JoJo Shelvey pass was excellent. Considering the money he cost and his youth, he will be a real threat to Tierneys place in the team. And that’s the competition we need to see. I suspect he won’t be in the team for Thursday. He deserves a rest now.
White and Gabriel were largely unthreatened. Both were solid. And white had a much easier time distributing the ball than at Anfield. And behind them we had Ramsdale who pulled off one remarkable save. Without that save the outcome could have been much more painful. I’m not sure Leno could have gotten to that. He really has been the signing of the season for us. A game changer. Even against a shit team.
And now there’s Aubameyang. He will be having nightmares over that miss. Sure, Smith Rowe could have done better with his header. But how do you miss that. Other players maybe. But this is food and drink to Aubmeyang. He’s a natural goal scorer. Luckily it was not too costly. But, as in previous games, I hope he’s saving up his scoring exploits for the next game. Because apart from this desperate miss, he rarely contributed. Part of that, I felt, was due to Odergaard not being able to release him. Odergaard tends to take a lot of touches and slow us down ever so slightly. And for a man of pace like Aubameyang, that can make all the difference.
Sambi was solid today and arguably the more creative of our two midfield players. One pass in the first half to Saka was Brady-esque. He can still get caught on the ball outside our own area and he also faded towards the end. You could see him finding it hard to track back on their breakaways. Against a less shitty team that could have been exposed. But, again, with youth on his side, he will be a mainstay of this team later on.
Tomi had a quieter and less threatening time of it today. He really has nailed down that right back position. Maybe he was the signing of the season when it’s normalized for the amount paid.
Arteta selected the right team today. And though we were slow to start, our tactics we good and the team grew into the game. We seemed to find more energy in the second half. Obviously the change of Saka was critical. We might have feared for the reappearance of Pepe but this game needed the pace and directness of Martinelli. And man was that the right decision. Within a minute or two he scored a sumptuous goal. Henry-esque if you will. Intelligently and beautifully taken. The type of finish that we’d expect to see from Aubameyang. It makes you realize the talent we have on the bench. And that put the game away and secured the three points.
My only complaint was the replacement of Partey. Why bring on Elneny and not AMN. AMN is our future and Elneny will be gone within 6 months. Why waste minutes on Elneny and not leet AMN have the experience? AMN has barely seen any time after starting against Palace. He needs to play. He deserves to play. Whereas Elneny is a known entity. You know what you get – and don’t get from him. He’s solid, predictable and safe. Borderline boring. But this was a chance to give AMN minutes and see what he could do (again). Maybe we’re saving him for Old Trafford. But this was one that Arteta got wrong. Not the end of the world mind you. A small mistakes in the bigger scheme of things. And in the bigger scheme of things he’s getting most things right.
So we’re up to 5th. Competing for the top 4. That’s surprising and not what I expected. I can’t believe we’ll hold this position. I still maintain we are not a top 4 team. Nor top 5. We finish in the top 10. Maybe 7th. At best 6th. Maybe I’m a natural pessimist with this team. But, as much as the team has evolved and developed, as much as the trajectory has improved, we’re still not there yet. We still have a few more pieces to add. We need Partey to re-discover himself. We need another midfield player. We need more creativity. More than Odergaard can provide. Unless, that is, he adapts more quickly. As good as we’ve become. And as many points as we’ve not accumulated, we’re just not quite there yet. I never thought this year would be that year. Arteta needs a little more time. But with Saka showing signs of being Artetas Sterling and White showing signs of being Arteta’s John Stone, we’re in a good place. A not so good place is Old Trafford. Let’s see if we can get there while it’s still Carrick’s team. While we never expected much from Anfield, this is a game where we should have higher expectations. Especially if we actually think we’re a top 5 team. But then you know how I feel about that.