Similar to last season, another stalemate, another penalty incident, another Arsenal player sent off for an off the ball incident with Joey, but unfortunately this match won’t be remembered as fondly as our 4-4 draw back in February.
The Barton – Gervinho incident has been analysed so many times over the weekend from all sorts of media, I’ll be gladly avoiding this area and focusing on the football that was played.
With Arsenal fielding out a team minus Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott, there was an air of optimism that we could get at least a draw and possibly more from our opening match. However, as it turns out, we were probably lucky to come out with a draw in the end.
Pardew decided to go with a 442 formation despite playing 451 from the majority of pre-season, but it left us wanting from the start of the game. Arsenal’s midfield of five outnumbered our midfield (as seen below) and with their quick passing and slick movement, we were left chasing shadows at times. We struggled to get the ball back and when we did, it was wastefully launched at Ba and Ameobi in the hope it would stick until our midfielders arrived. Unfortunately, our midfielders, especially Tiote and Cabaye, were too busy chasing the ball back, by the time we won the ball and launched it upfield, it was a struggle for them to support our strikers.
Thankfully, it was still goalless at half time and Pardew changed formation to 451 and brought on new signing Gabriel Obertan to replace Demba Ba. Obertan was employed as the no 10, providing the link between Ameobi and midfield. Obertan showed signs of skill, determination and pace – sprinting 40 yards to beat Bacary Sagna to a loose ball and was the only offensive player that provided any chances on goal, as he neatly linked up with Yohan Cabaye to produce our only shot on goal, albeit a weak one. Overall, we played better in the second half, as proven by a 71% pass rate compared to a lowly 64% in the first half.
Defensively, we played well – limiting Arsenal to one shot on target and their other six missed from outside of the area. We know that Arsenal like to thread the through balls through the eye of the needle, so our defenders had to be aware and they were. Coloccini (as pointed out in my previous blog) reads the game very well and this proved important, as he made the most interceptions (7), but our other three defenders also contributed as well. Ryan Taylor played well considering he was played out of position as left back.
Our midfielders had a tough time – a low pass percentage with only Gutierrez and Obertan reaching 70%. Cabaye played well on his competitive debut, attempting the most tackles, the highest percentage of 50/50 ground duels won from our starting XI and our only shot on target. It’s a shame that he wasn’t on the ball enough, as one of his strengths is his passing and being able to provide chances. His success rate to compete for the ball in the middle of the park will be welcoming to Newcastle, as it will help Cheik Tiote to have another battler alongside him.
We still lack the cutting edge upfront and Pardew is still looking to bring another striker before the end of the transfer window. A disappointing debut from Demba Ba, but the formation or service wasn’t too kind to him. One criticism of Shola Ameobi is that he seems lazy and unwilling to fight for the ball – emphasised by the statistic of 17 50/50 ground duels attempted and only winning 7. Leon Best came on as substitute and won 5 out of 6.
With the impending arrival of Erik Pieters from PSV to fill in our left back slot, we’re still on the lookout for a number 9. If we bring someone in who can hit the back of the net, I think most Newcastle fans will be looking forward to the season ahead with confidence rather than through our fingers.