Arsenal fell to a 2-1 away defeat to Newcastle United on Sunday afternoon at St. James’s Park, meaning that the Gunners continue to not have picked up an away league point in 2018.

Arsene Wenger fielded a strong side for the match-up, but a combination of Rafa Benitez’s team being too prepared and perhaps the prioritization of the Europa League played a part in ending the Gunners 7 game unbeaten run across all competitions.

The manager opted for a 4-3-3 formation with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshire being rested for the tie.

It didn’t take long for the game to get going, and with just 14 minutes on the clock Alexandre Lacazette had found the net to make it 1-0 to the away side.

Shkrodan Mustafi looped a ball from just inside his own half all the way up to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who evaded the offside trap wonderfully and took down the ball as he arrived into Martin Dubravka’s penalty area. With a quick glance across the face of goal he found his striking partner Lacazette onrushing, who’s outstretched leg met an inviting cross to make it 1-0.

The goal was Arsenal’s 100th in all competitions this season and it was Lacazette’s 11th of the campaign – with his opener being his 1st away premier league goal in nine appearances, since Manchester City at the Etihad in November.

Just before the half hour mark had arrived, the game was brought back to 1-1; this time Ayoze Perez, the man who had been Newcastle’s saviour in last week’s game against Leicester City came up with the goods once more.

Benitez side did well to get the goal – DeAndre Yedlin fizzed a ball into the penalty area and Perez met it quite far past the front post and managed to finish past Petr Cech in the Arsenal net.

The goal was the 800th scored against Arsenal during Wenger’s tenure as manager of the club, and it also meant that the Gunners had not kept a clean sheet in the Premier League since a nil-nil draw with next week’s opponents West Ham United all the way back in December.

Making his league debut in Sunday’s game was 18-year-old Joe Willock – who was only 6 years old the last time the Geordies defeated Arsenal back in 2005. Willock had been featured in some cup games throughout the season and had impressed, so it was good to see him getting a run out from the start in the league.

Basically the moment Willock left the field in the 68th minute to be replaced by Danny Welbeck, Arsenal found themselves in a precarious spot of bother – Newcastle went 2-1 up.

This time, it Matt Ritchie with the goal – the Scottish midfielder finishing what was some lovely play from the Geordies that was heavily assisted by some particularly farcical defending. Mustafi was caught ball-watching and Benitez side had taken the lead.
Not the first time a defensive error lead to a goal this season either – it was in fact the 15th time this season, making them the club to have conceded the most goals as a result of errors.

This calamitous defending meant that Arsenal had conceded 45 goals so far this season in 33 matches – one more than the side conceded in all of last season’s campaign. The only season in which the side conceded more league goals under Wenger was in 2011/12, where they conceded 49 – a record that looks highly likely to be broken.

As the game reached its final 10 minutes, Newcastle came agonisingly close to making it 3-1. A fine combination by their two January loan signings seen Islam Slimani feed to ball to set the threatening Kenedy away, but his shot only found the woodwork.

The final few minutes offered no respite, and before injury time had arrived it seemed apparent that the remainder of this game was going to be a lost cause. Credit must be given to Newcastle’s centre back pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune. Despite the away side having enormously more possession – 72% to 28% - the two defenders held firm and saw their side to victory.

Arsenal on the other hand were demoralising to watch, particularly in the second half. It’s easy to assign blame for this performance on a lack of urgency remaining in the league, but for the sake of the supporters who travelled the length of the country to be there, perhaps they could have shown more. A disappointing result.

This result sees Arsenal remain of 54 points in 6th position. With 5 games remaining and with Chelsea winning yesterday to open up a 6-point gap between the Gunners and 5th position, it looks likely that the last few games may end up being an attempt to remain in 6th and not fall behind Burnley to 7th.

Burnley, after a terrific win against Leicester City yesterday, will fancy their chances of leapfrogging Wenger’s side into 6th place. It means that there tie in 2 weeks time may have increased importance, despite but 6th and 7th likely guaranteed Europa League spots (at the least) unless Southampton win the FA Cup.

Newcastle on the other hand have all right to be elated with their result. The win has brought them to 41 points, just 2 points behind Leicester City in 8th with 5 games remaining. For a club that was worried about potential relegation at the turn of the year, it is some turnaround, and what Benitez has done with the resources he has had should not be underestimated as it is an impressive achievement.

Next up for Arsenal is another Premier League game, this time against West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. With the first leg of the Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid the following Thursday, supporters can expect some players to be rested once more but nonetheless, anything less than a win against a low-flying Hammers side would be a disappointment.