Arsenal bottle up title ‘fears’ to prove to Manchester City – and Arteta – they will challenge again
Mikel Arteta knows a Premier League title challenge will be “even harder” next season and beyond, but this Arsenal team proved their long-term credentials.
It was interpreted by at least one sensationalist outlet as a Mikel Arteta ‘fear’ – the idea that this season might represent the best chance his iteration of Arsenal will ever have of winning the Premier League title.
The point would not be difficult to understand. Arsenal have benefited from a perfect storm of their own phenomenal management and the sheer incompetence of many of the usual contenders. Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs all ought to be better next campaign than this, with a well-oiled Newcastle introduced to the mix.
And even if lightning does strike twice at those clubs, Manchester City have reached a stage of omnipotence whereby they can create their own challengers by giving them two brilliant players, one excellent coach and a considerable points advantage, just to add a sense of jeopardy to their Treble pursuit.
As Arteta himself said before the trip to Newcastle: “Next season looks like it is going to be even harder.”
The manager declared this “the best time” to win the Premier League title “because you don’t know when you are going to have another opportunity,” but on the evidence of their stunning victory it won’t be long.
A trip to St James’ Park with everything on the line in May did make for an irresistible comparison. The capitulation against the Magpies almost a year ago confirmed the surrender of a Champions League qualification place, while providing a collective determination which has dragged them through this campaign. The fear was that history would repeat itself, that those last remnants of hope would be extinguished, that Arsenal would bottle it again. The reality was that they proved their progress in the most clear terms.
Newcastle did start sensationally, against the backdrop of a home stadium roar. Jacob Murphy hit the post, Alexander Isak had a goal-bound shot block and a penalty was awarded when Jakub Kiwior was adjudged to have handballed a Bruno Guimaraes effort.
It was correctly disallowed after what Graeme Le Saux wryly described as “73 replays”, and on that moment the game turned. Newcastle had four shots in the opening eight minutes, culminating in that penalty shout. They were behind by their next one as Arsenal regrouped.
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Martin Odegaard was in string-pulling form and threaded a crisp strike from outside the area through Sven Botman’s legs and past Nick Pope. The England keeper was the only thing keeping the hosts in the game, saving from Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and then Odegaard again in first-half stoppage-time; Arsenal really should have been out of sight.
But then Newcastle had their chances, hitting the post again through Isak, with Fabian Schar allowing Aaron Ramsdale to exhibit his glorious wrist strength from a point-blank header and Granit Xhaka blocking Joe Willock’s shot.
Arsenal’s game management was so impressive in such a hostile environment, down to Arteta patrolling the touchline so close to the field of play that when Dan Burn toppled Gabriel Jesus at one stage, the Brazilian received an instant arm around the shoulder with some managerial advice when he rose to his feet.
That was just one of a series of pressure-relieving moments when Arsenal players bought fouls their Newcastle counterparts were all too willing to sell. A combination of them being suckered in and referee Chris Kavanagh ignoring the yellow card burning a hole in his pocket added a simmering tension to this game, one of those in which both sets of fans and players are left furious with the injustice and blatant corruption against their team.
That is how we got such quirky delights as Xhaka versus Callum Wilson, Kieran Trippier against Jesus and the unbookable Guimaraes against the concept of Achilles tendons.
Arteta expressed before the game a need to “find better ways to finalise games” and “kill them”, so will take personal glee from his first substitution helping consolidate victory. Newcastle were targeting Oleksandr Zinchenko and the space he so often vacates at left-back, much as many of Arsenal’s recent opponents had. Kieran Tierney rendered that plan almost entirely obsolete in the final half an hour with a professional performance which embodied his tucked shirt.
One last-ditch tackle prevented Guimaraes from lining up a shot but it was the Scot’s interception which set Arsenal on their way to the clinching second goal, with Martinelli subsequently dancing through the land of Newcastle centre-half giants: Botman was deceived by a quick shimmy and Schar poked the ball into his own net from a driven cross.
That rather neatly meant that Arsenal had no shots from the 70th minute onwards yet still doubled a lead they never relinquished against one of the best home teams in the league, an outcome only possible through the control and concentration of Jorginho, the composure of Kiwior, stats like Zinchenko and Benjamin White making no tackles between them but Martinelli and Bukayo Saka managing 11 and, of course, a lovely dollop of schadenfreude-flavoured sh*thousing.
In any event, there need be no ‘fear’ at this young Arsenal side disappearing from view. Results and performances such as these in races this unforgiving only burnish them with an experience and hunger that will keep them at the top table for a while longer.
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