Payback can be unpleasant, can it not? Well, at least for the side suffering the payback. At our side, it was quite delicious to serve up to our hosts a steamin’ hot pile of comeuppance after suffering a controversial draw in the reverse fixture and, of course, losing this same fixture almost a year ago to the day. This has to stand as one of the best performances of the season. Full stop. Oh, wait. I should write a bit more.
All that was missing from this one was various penalty shouts from Newcastle of varying degrees of legitimacy. There was the one dubious handball against Kiwior that VAR overturned, but it might have been nice for Newcastle to have suffered the indignity of seeing several actual shouts get ignored. To marinate this one with just a but more savour, Newcastle’s fans and Eddie Howe in particular were incensed at our time-wasting, as if they’re not masters of that dark art themselves. Their average delay before restarting play is a shocking 29.9 seconds, second only to Brentford. To have turned that stat and this fixture on its head, then, offers som delicious, delicious justice.
Going beyond that, this one felt what it might be like to face Stoke but with a good manager and a budget. I counted three or four occasions when a Toon elbow found a Gunner face, and there were countless tackles that should have seen a booking from Kavanagh. The fact that neither Joelinton nor Guimarães ever saw yellow tells you all you need to know about Kavanagh, not that any of us needs any reminding. I used to respect Eddie Howe and had him on my shortlist of managers to replace Wenger and then Emery, but he’s crossed over the dark side with this style of play.
Enough looking outward. Let’s look inward.
Jorginho. Man of the match if only for preventing Xhaka from getting sent off. He delivered a brilliant all-around performance, helping us to establish control of the midfield after an admittedly shaky first fifteen minutes or so. He was everywhere we needed him to be. Most touches, most successful passes, most clearances, most possessions won…For a consolation signing after failing to nab Caicedo, Jorginho is proving his worth.
Kiwior. He’s been just short of revelatory. His performance against Newcastle was strong enough to prompt numerous queries about why he hasn’t started more matches, as if top-flight clubs regularly sign 23 year old CBs and throw them on. We can fault Arteta for his man-management, but he had to strike a delicate balance between showing confidence in Holding and building Kiwior up. He may have erred on the side of caution to the expense of points, but who among us could have done better? The fact that Kiwior played so confidently in the cauldron that is St. James’s has to come as a surprise. More performances like that might just put to rest the idea that we have to sign another CB this summer.
Last but not least, Martin Ødegaard. Signing this man is turning into the coup of the decade. His goal may have come against the run of play, and he may have fluffed a chance at making it 0-2 in first half stoppage-time, but the Norwegian has filed paperwork for consideration for being one of the best midfielders of the next five years. That goal brought him level with some nobody named Kevin De Bruyne for most non-penalty goals scored by a midfielder, and we still have three matches to play. Were it not for the unfortunate (for Newcastle) intervention of Fabian Schar, Ødegaard would have bagged a brace. Alas and alack and all of that…
One last thought: having let the Prem title slip from our grasp, we seemed to play with greater confidence and elan, almost as if a youthful side was struggling to cope with the pressure of leading the Prem almost wire to wire. Yes, even with seasoned veterans like Xhaka, Jorginho, and Partey, and with proven winners like Zinchenko, Jorginho (again), and Jesus. there would always be jitters. We could conceivably finish on 90 points, our highest total since the Invincibles season. We’ll need to win those last three games while also needing Man City to drop five points from their last five matches if we hope to hoist that trophy. It’s hard to see that happening, but not as hard as seeing us finish this high from an August vantage point…
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