Arsenal lucky to escape with victory, says Neil Humphreys
Gunners have to play better if they want to win title
(Laurent Koscielny 72)
Beware the lazy cliches.
They will rain down on the Emirates Stadium like the storm that turned the pitch into a paddling pool last night.
They will come thick and fast, all the usual suspects. You know the ones.
Teams who play badly and pinch the three points win titles. Teams who snatch victories from the jaws of dull draws end up on open-top bus parades and so on and so forth.
But they don't.
They may win the odd match, but never the silverware. Consistency is always king in the end and Arsenal still can't find it.
The Gunners' 1-0 victory should not gloss over Newcastle United's obvious limitations or the hosts' inept showing.
This was hardly the stuff of champions. This was a lucky escape.
Or, to put it another way, if this kind of mediocre performance really is title-winning material, then heaven help the English Premier League.
Arsenal's rivals will not succumb as Newcastle did in the final stages.
For anyone seeking confirmation that this upside-down, back-to-front season is high on intrigue, but low on quality, then Arsenal once again provided it.
At kick-off, Arsenal led the topsy-turvy table as Newcastle clung to its bottom rungs.
For most of the game, the league table read like a forgery.
The Gunners overwhelmed the visitors in the opening exchanges, threatening to sing in the incessant rain, but the storm almost washed them away.
Hector Bellerin skipped along the slippery surface, profiting from poor Paul Dummett being exposed time and again by Ayoze Perez's refusal to offer any defensive cover.
Arsenal might have conjured an early goal down the right flank on a couple of occasions had it not been for an obvious drawback.
Like a young (or even a 26-year-old) Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to struggle with the "bright English winger" tag.
Maybe the physique and the name work against him.
If he wasn't built like the proverbial brickhouse or saddled with the nickname the "Ox", he might not labour under such expectations.
But he looked more like a lost sheep in search of Bo Beep at the Emirates. Arsenal's early attacks, along his flank, somehow passed him by.
The 22-year-old appeared to be playing hide and seek with Olivier Giroud and Mesut Oezil. All three were exceptionally difficult to find.
Like the 4-0 debacle at Southampton, Arsenal retain an alarming ability to start brightly only to sleepwalk through the rest of contests.
In central midfield, Cheick Tiote and Jack Colback bullied both Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini, underlining Arsenal's pressing need to strengthen in central midfield.
While Robert Elliot settled down for a nap in the Newcastle goal, Petr Cech was called into action to deny Georgino Wijnaldum twice, either side of half-time.
Arsenal failed to conjure a shot on target in the first half against a relegation-threatened Newcastle side limited in both attacking options and creative variety.
The Gunners loathe the cliché, but as the miserable conditions became colder and wetter, they increasingly resembled fragile artistes sipping lattes in a brunch cafe to avoid the drizzle.
They rarely reign when it pours.
Oezil appeared more occupied with finding an umbrella than a telling pass.
The first exasperated boos rang out around the Emirates in the 64th minute, when centre back Chancel Mbemba somehow wandered from one end of the pitch to the other to send a free header over the bar.
Newcastle could have conceivably been three goals to the good by that stage.
So, naturally, in line with the farcical EPL campaign that keeps on giving, they went behind when it was least expected.
In the 72nd minute, an innocuous corner pinged around in the box. There was a bit of head tennis before Perez finished what he started in the first half and forgot to do any defending.
When the ball finally dropped to Laurent Koscielny, Perez failed to wake from his fitful doze, allowing the defender to lash the ball home.
Koscielny deserved his reward for keeping Aleksandar Mitrovic tugged snuggly in his pocket. But his teammates most certainly didn't.
In the away dugout, Steve McClaren looked like a man with an irritable bowel who's just realised he's never going to find a toilet in time.
He didn't deserve this. Nor did the Magpies.
But the Gunners, surely, cannot keep getting away with it, even in a season this strange.
Arsene Wenger needs to go shopping or the silverware will not be going to the Emirates.
- Leicester 0 Bournemouth 0
- Man United 2 Swansea 1
- Norwich 1 Southampton 0
- Sunderland 3 Aston Villa 1
- West Brom 2 Stoke 1
- West Ham 2 Liverpool 0