Complacency. The latest criticism that should be thrown the way of Steve Bruce and his Newcastle United side.
You could argue – and I’m going to – that Sunday was the WORST performance of an at best lacklustre, lifeless season merely existing as a top flight also ran. This is something we’re accustomed to. However, it never feels any better admitting, watching or living it.
Arsenal were there for the taking. Arsenal’s eye wasn’t even on the ball. Mikel Arteta and the Gunners’ best hope this season lies in their ‘hanging-by-a-thread’ Europa League tie against Villareal, a tie they’re somehow still alive in despite an abject showing in Spain on Thursday night.
So, carrying that disappointment, Arteta & Co travelled back on Friday, had one day to travel north to Tyneside, then play another game in a competition they have no chance of making an impact in against a side still with some skin in the game – a win for the Magpies could have all but ended relegation fears, stretching the gap to third bottom to 12 points with just four games left to play.
A win was never on the agenda, though. This was Arsenal’s world – and Newcastle United were only there to make up the numbers.
This was, and will likely prove to be, the easiest three points the Gunners will claim in the top flight this season. Eleventh in the table at kick-off, on the back of one of the most underwhelming campaigns in supporters’ living memory, Newcastle were most people’s favourites to at least take a point from the Arsenal encounter.
The Toothless Magpies, with all of their big players lined up as starters, failed to lay a glove on Arteta’s side. From minute one the fight, the passion, the commitment and the determination shown in abundance at Anfield and against the likes of West Ham United, Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur evaded them. United looked a side who’d already run their race and couldn’t get themselves up for the next one.
They allowed Arsenal to dictate. This was a return to the passive, easy ride United of weeks-gone-by – and for that very reason, this is proof enough that despite getting the Magpies into a place of safety in recent weeks, it was Bruce who allowed the situation to become so dire in the first place. The players don’t escape without blame.
And now, with four games left, United have a gap few thought just a few short weeks back. Their position is healthy, in relative terms (with survival the sole aim), it’s easy to forget that.
But the job isn’t done, not quite. Not yet.
And the biggest problem is, when you turn off the tap, it can prove impossible to turn on again.
If United think they’ve done their job – they played like that on Sunday – this could prove to be perfect motivation for Scott Parker’s Cottagers.
Their task is a tough one, but not mathematically impossible.
And while I think United are probably safe, they can’t play like they are, or even think like it. Doing so opens a door that should have been slammed shut at SJP – and wasn’t.