Newcastle United are lost and heading the wrong way under Steve Bruce
Which way now? Steve Bruce tried it “his way” at the Emirates Stadium – and suffered an even heavier defeat.
Newcastle United were deservedly beaten 3-0 by Arsenal tonight.
Bruce had pledged to change things – and take the “gloves off” – after last week's defeat to previously-winless Sheffield United.
However, Bruce's more attack-minded team selection and formation, paradoxically, only served to make things worse at a stadium where United, set up more defensively, had given a better account of themselves just over a week ago.
This time Newcastle only mustered one shot on target, and the performance will have done nothing to dispel fears that the club is getting dragged into a relegation battle.
After a fractious week on Tyneside, on and off the pitch, Bruce needed a united front at the Emirates Stadium, where his team had taken Arsenal to extra time in a third-round FA Cup tie nine days earlier.
Bruce had retained the backing of owner Mike Ashley following last week’s abject 1-0 loss at Bramall Lane, but fans were asking if he retained the support of the dressing room ahead of the game.
“You'll have to ask them, and do your rounds on them,” said Bruce at his pre-match press conference. “I still believe (they are behind me), yes.”
It was an unconvincing answer. What Bruce needed was a convincing performance from his team. Unfortunately, he didn’t get one.
Bruce made eight changes for the game, something no United manager has previously done for a Premier League fixture. He switched to a back four and played Andy Carroll up front with Callum Wilson. In came Matty Longstaff, Jonjo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles among others.
This was ‘his way’. Two up front and a back four. It was a 4-4-2 formation without any real width, though Miguel Almiron did his best to add some.
The first real chance of the game fell for Arsenal. Karl Darlow got a foot to a ball from Bukayo Saka, and this was enough to put off Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who shot across an open goal and struck the far post.
It was an early let-off for United, who threatened down the right through Almiron. For the most part, Newcastle were on the back foot. Still, they fought and scrapped, which was an improvement on the performance at Bramall Lane.
Arsenal pressed on after the break, and their breakthrough wasn’t long in coming. Darlow did well to stop a shot from Alexadre Lacazette early in the second half, and they scored from a quick break forward after Shelvey, not for the first time, failed to beat the first man with a corner.
Then came a second, again from a quick break down the left. Emile Smith delivered a low ball in the box after teasing Emil Krafth which was swept home by Saka.
Aubameyang made it 3-0 with 13 minutes left, and Bruce handed teenage midfielder Elliot Anderson his Premier League debut late in the game.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow, Krafth, Lascelles, Clark, Lewis, Shelvey, M Longstaff (Hendrick, 78), Almiron (Anderson, 87), Joelinton, Carroll (Murphy, 69), Wilson.