Nuno Tavares makes Aaron Ramsdale fume as Arsenal players disobey furiouos Mikel Arteta

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Worrying trend emerges for Arsenal this season

There are plenty of points to criticse Arsenal on from this specific game, and don’t worry we’ll get to those, but before embarking on the sadistic process of analysing the 2-0 defeat to Newcastle, it’s worth taking a look at a troubling pattern that has blighted the season.

From a mentality point of view, the Gunners have surpassed several milestones this year. The individual errors that blighted their game last season have all but gone, while impressive victories against bogey teams like Leicester and Aston Villa have proved that they are capable of grinding out results away from home. However, there still remains one psychological hurdle that they cannot overcome.

In all bar four of Arsenal’s games this season – the dramatic 2-1 win over Wolves and the three draws against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Burnley – the team that has scored the first goal has gone on to win the game. The pattern repeated itself of Monday, and after Ben White turned into his own net, there was not a single point in the match, where Arsenal looked as though they may turn things around.

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This defect is symptomatic of a side that does not respond will in the face of adversity. While the top sides ride out the in-game waves of difficulty, the Gunners tend to drown in them. After the game Mikel Arteta admitted this is an issue that his side will have to tackle.

“We need to find other ways to do it, especially when we find ourselves in this situation,” the Spaniard told football.london in his post-match press conference. “The amount of changes we have made because of injuries, with Gabby who was feeling something and with Tomiyasu. We tried to change it but again, we were extremely poor in all departments that can give you a chance at least to compete in a match and today we weren’t good enough.”

Perhaps it can be put down to inexperience. The Gunners do have the youngest squad in the league after all. But as they seek to bridge the gap with the elite side, the current improtance of the first goal in their games is simply unsustainable. Top teams hit back when they’re down, and that perhaps is why Arsenal will not be among them in the Champions League next season.

January regrets

As this threadbare Arsenal squad has limped to the finish line of the Premier League season, it has been hard not to cast the mind back to January where the Gunners embarked on a spectacular campaign of decimating all their squad depth which in hindsight appears to have been an act of tremendous self-harm.

At the time the decision could be justified by the fact that they were only in one competition after their unexpected early exit from the FA Cup third round at the hands of Nottingham Forest. Pablo Mari, Flo Balogun, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac, could not have been expected to feature much if they had stuck around while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ‘s race in North London was run.

But without the safety blanket of squad depth to rely upon the Gunners decided to take a huge gamble on the ability of their slender group to get through the business end of the season. It was a policy that could only really be judged on its results. Qualify for top four and it would be a masterstroke in squad management, but anything else and it would go down as a largely unnecessary piece of self-sabotage. Sadly it has fallen in to the latter category.

Sure none of the above mentioned names would have played regularly, but if their had been the option of more rotation in the squad, then maybe Arsenal would not have been approaching their most important game of the season without a single fully fit member of their first choice back four.

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Speaking after the game Mikel Arteta was happy to defend the decisions his club had taken back in the winter window. “We have done what we can and what we are allowed to do and what we could do with the resources that we had,” the Spaniard said. “In the start of the season the team we were able to build is the team that we were able to build and it is the same team that has taken us all the way here.”

Attempts were made to sign players in fairness to Arsenal. The club pursued Dusan Vlahovic, but the player chose Juventus, while Edu was keen on getting a deal done for his compatriot Arthur. It’s impossible to ever really know what might have been if just a couple of those second string players had stuck around, but, as with so many things in the latter part of this Gunners campaign, it’s impossible not to wonder what might have been.

Ways to lose

Throw in all the caveats you want. The midseason departure of a captain and star striker due to disciplinary issues, the fact that not a single one of Arsenal’s first choice back four was fully fit on the night or the fact that their best and most experienced midfielder was absent. The list could go on. There is still no way to justify the way Arsenal’s top four hopes crashed and burned on Monday night.

After such a humiliating battering at the hands of their local rivals on Monday you would have expected the Gunners to come out and deliver an emphatic response that proved all of their numerous vocal doubters wrong. What they offered up instead was simply pathetic.

“We didn’t compete,” said a visibly furious Mikel Arteta in his post match press conference after the game with depressing accuracy. “We never got into the game. We put ourselves in trouble time after time. We lost every duel. In every aspect of the game we were second best.”

So where does the blame lie? Speaking after the game an understandably livid Granit Xhaka – one of the few players to come away with any credit – seemed to have a pretty clear idea.

“We didn’t do what the game plan was,” he told Sky Sports. “Not listening to the coach, doing our own things and when you do your own things this is what happens. It was a disastrous performance and like this, you don’t deserve to play Champions League. We didn’t deserve to play even Europa League and it’s very hard to take it at the moment. I don’t know why we are not doing what the coach is asking for us.”

The Swiss international was not wrong. From the off Arsenal retreated towards their own goal allowing Newcastle to submerge them further into a pool of their own nerves, and throughout the 90 they never looked like getting out.

If there was one player who typified the anxious approach it was Aaron Ramsdale. The England ‘keeper has been a soothing presence for much of the season with his vocal and charismatic approach, but on Monday he was jittery from the get go. Early on he was lucky not to concede a goal when being charged down by Miguel Almiron, and instead of serving as a wake up call this only seemed to make him more fearful.

It was clear that he had been instructed to look for players on Arsenal’s left from goal kicks, but hardly any of these landed. As one such ball, aimed towards Nuno Tavares failed to achieve it’s target Ramsdale turned to vent his frustration at the Gunners bench who had been demanding that he stick to the tactic.

During a break in play enforced by Takehiro Tomiyasu ‘s injury, Arteta tried to reinforce this approach by talking to his players in a huddle where he could be seen passionately grabbing his goalkeeper by the rest and encouraging the rest of the team to get on his wavelength, but there was no talking to these Arsenal players who failed to follow the game plan. As the heat turned up in a cauldrenous atmosphere at St. James’ Park, the Gunners just melted away.

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Newcastle were good on the night in fairness to them, and if Arsenal had been too, then you could just about swallowed the sandpaper pill that this defeat is. But to go out in such a tepid manner leaves a bitter taste in the mouth that many will struggle to overcome.

Where do Arsenal go from here?

There is a tendency in football media to sensationalise and catastrophise every result. Each defeat is the fiery depths of a crisis and each win is the soaring elation of paradise. This loss though feels like a lot more than just three points dropped for Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta did his best to arouse a modicum of enthusiasm for Sunday’s clash with Everton by suggesting that mathematically it’s still possible that the Gunners could be playing Champions League football next season, but reaslistically their top four hopes are over. Tottenham – despite their amusing historical precedent for doing so – will not choke on the final day to Norwich, and the chasm in goal difference between the two sides is such that only a defeat to Spurs against one of the worst sides in Premier League history will suffice to give Arsenal a chance.

Short of a miracle, they will be playing Europa League football next season. While most fans would have accepted that at the start of the season, having soared so close to the sun of Champions League football, this feels like a devastating disappointment.

The reason for this is that it’s clear that the job Mikel Arteta is doing at the Emirates is a good one, despite how lazy analysts will attempt to spin these results. Arsenal have gone from a team rotten to the core, ambling aimlessly towards stagnant mediocrity, to one excitingly pursuing an upward trajectory with the youngest squad in the league. They’ve shown they can mix it with the very best in moments against Manchester City and Liverpool, but to take that next step it really felt as though they needed to be dining at Europe’s top table next season.

The only way to bridge that gap between where the Gunners are now, and where they want to be is by recruitment. Gabriel Jesus has been linked as the centre forward saviour that is so clearly needed in North London, but would the Brazilian want to swap the Bernabeu for Baku?

Attracting players of the level required to lift Arsenal up a level is going to be a lot harder, and probably a lot more expensive than it would have been had Arsenal been playing Champions League football next season. Edu has stated he wants to be shopping on the top shelf of the transfer market, but with second-tier European football to offer, that calibre of additions may be harder to reach.

Perhaps it’s fatalistic, but you do wonder whether the Gunners will get this opportunity again. After all the main reason this top four spot has opened up for them is because of the shambles Manchester United have been this season. Erik ten Haag has a heck of a job on his hands at Old Trafford next season but surely they won’t be so pathetic again.

Tottenham meanwhile will strengthen under Antonio Conte, assuming he stays, and there is, of course, the ticking timebomb that is Newcastle who will be desperate to blow open the estabilshed order at the top of the Premier League sooner rather than later. Chelsea’s ownership makes them a equally difficult to predict in the coming, but with the landscape of English football changing, perhaps this dismal night at St. James’ Park will be looked back in years to come as the one that well and truly got away for Arsenal.

Source by Football London

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