Pardew lined up his side in a 451. To most commentators and pundits this is a negative tactic, but the truth is that that isn’t always the case. Sacrificing a striker for an additional midfielder means you can press the opposition in midfield, disrupt their passing, win the ball early, and even keep it a little better.
With a 442 the usual approach is to sit back and let Arsenal have the ball. This means the team defends deeper, but can play a more direct game with two strikers to aim for. Tottenham tried this very approach at the Emirates.
Perhap’s the Spurs’ miserable failure was why Pardew was keen on matching Arsenal in the middle. Their plan was to let our center halves have the ball, but mark our holding midfielders (Arteta and Song) tightly, not allowing them any space. Vermaelen and Koscielny thus saw a lot of the ball, but their passes often didn’t meet the intended target.
For the opening goal, Newcastle’s tactic worked perfectly. Vermaelen gave the ball away, and Newcastle players poured forward, outnumbering Arsenal’s defenders. Ben Arfa then showed sublime skill to finish off the move.
But we didn’t let them settle, RvP having equalized only 1.5 replays later. And from then on, our quality showed. We absolutely dominated in every respect. And this is the problem with trying to match Arsenal in midfield, we will always get the better of you, and the chances will come. Arteta was, once again, unfazed by Newcastle’s heavy pressing, and finished with a 94% passing accuracy, having completed 84 out of 89 passes, creating 4 chances in the process.
Our other dominant player on the night was Theo Walcott. Everything we did in the first half went down our right side. Newcastle’s pressing meant our short passing approach didn’t always work, and with them pushing higher, they left space in behind. So Theo was our out ball in the first half. Everyone looked for him, trying to exploit his pace against Newcastle’s relatively high line.
This is why Theo will always be such a key player for us, especially in big games. If teams do try to press us and squeeze play, they have to contend with Theo’s speed on the break. Would we have beaten Barcelona without him? No. He was the key reason why, despite our passing game not flowing, we remained a threat in the first half. And it was no surprise it was him who got the assist for Robin’s goal. His stats were just as impressive as Arteta’s. 1 assist (should be 2, really), 6 chances created, 24/29 passes completed in the final third. Man of the match.
In the second half Newcastle dropped deeper, and midway through they reverted to more of the 442 counter attacking approach. They sat deeper and deeper, wasted time more and more frequently. They were playing for a draw and, frankly, they couldn’t be blamed, such was our dominance.
We ended up getting a well deserved win. We had 23 shots to their 4. Alan Pardew’s suggestion that they deserved something from the match couldn’t have been more delusional.
Sure, Newcastle worked very hard and fought til the very end for that point. But hard work and fight only overcomes talent if the other team doesn’t show the same desire. Arsenal did. We really, really wanted those 3 points, and worked our socks off to get them.