The issues with confidence and cohesion that have blighted Arsenal’s football recently showed no real signs of abatement as they overcame an underwhelming Newcastle side at the Emirates on Saturday.
A real sluggishness and lack of vigour has rendered Arsenal impotent in attack of late, while simultaneously highlighting their weaknesses in defence, and draws at Southampton and West Ham going in to the Newcastle game were symptomatic of that.
I had hoped that the Gunners may force their way back into some sort of form against a struggling Magpies outfit but, in truth, there was more of the same from a side that is some way short of its best.
The primary problem appears to be in putting the ball in the back of the net which, in turn, ramps up the pressure on a defence which has shown itself prone to gaffes in recent times.
Aside from Mesut Ozil’s moment of exquisite quality for the goal, the same sort of profligacy was in evidence once again, with Jack Wilshere, Hector Bellerin, and Alexandre Lacazette all wasting good chances.
While you could argue that Wilshere was unlucky to see his shot saved, Bellerin and Lacazette were guilty of attempting to over-elaborate when simplicity was required, particularly with the team misfiring as it is at the moment.
Having such a slender lead inevitably allowed Newcastle to throw caution to the wind late on and, in truth, we were a touch fortunate the visitor’s finishing was so poor.
However, most important of all was that we secured another three points and we did just that. The fact that we also managed a clean sheet and that nobody picked up an injury was an added bonus.
To that extent, you have to mark Saturday’s match down as a success.
Next Friday the Gunners welcome Liverpool to the Emirates, though, and what’s clear is that another performance at yesterday’s level will almost certainly end in defeat.
We have to be more efficient in front of goal, or we will be punished. Quite how Arsene Wenger goes about achieving that is another matter because putting your chances away is not something he can impact from the sidelines. All he can really do is stress the importance of decision making in the big moments, so that we avoid players attempting cute chips from inside the box when through on goal *cough cough, Lacazette*.
In terms of things he can absolutely do for next week, Arsene may want to look at a few tweaks to the line-up to give us the best chance going into what is a crucial game. After another pretty ropey performance, I think it could well be time for Granit Xhaka to take a breather, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles given a tilt in the heart of midfield.
Though I have never been his biggest fan, the youngster has shown enough in his two matches out at left back to show that he can perform under pressure. Whether he has enough experience to warrant Arsene taking such a risk in a big game is another matter, however.
I would much prefer to see a proper left back playing in the position, though, so, barring injury, it would be good to see Sead Kolasinac returned to the fold.
Personally, I would also sacrifice Alex Iowbi for someone more focussed on defence, perhaps Mohammed Elneny or Danny Welbeck, so we don’t find ourselves overrun in midfield against a lively, industrious Liverpool side.
While Iwobi is technically excellent, his final pass and his finishing are woeful and a part of the profligacy problem that put us under so much pressure.
Between now and then we have a Carabao Cup fixture against West Ham, a match in which we can hopefully book ourselves a semi-final place and in which our youngsters can enjoy another opportunity to show their stuff. Good luck to them in what is a free hit and a chance to make a name for themselves.