While last week’s Premier League defeat to Tottenham Hotpsur was damaging, in 90 minutes against Newcastle on Monday, Arsenal’s Champions League hopes were all but extinguished.
What really hurts Arsenal fans is that before these two games, the club were about to announce their return to the top of European football.
The 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park – successful midfielder Granit Xhaka described as a ‘disaster’ – dealt a blow to Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the Premier League top four as the Gunners remain two points behind Tottenham with one game to play. player.
To regain fourth position and qualify for the Champions League, Arsenal will realistically have to beat Everton on Sunday and hope that Norwich – winless in six Premier League games – can pull off an unlikely win over Tottenham.
But as it stands, Monday’s lackluster loss looks costly.
“If anyone isn’t ready for this game, stay home,” Xhaka said of his side’s performance against Newcastle.
“If you’re not ready for it, you’re nervous, stay on the bench or stay at home, don’t come here,” he told Sky Sports. “We need people who have balls – sorry to say – to come here and play, because we knew this game might be one of the most important games for us.”
Newcastle, who had little to play for other than cementing mid-table status, dominated the encounter and should have been ahead at half-time – with the best chance going to Allan Saint-Maximin after a spirited run in front of Takehiro Tomiyasu.
The home side took the lead 10 minutes into the second half when Ben White deflected Joelinton’s cross into his own net.
That goal did little to spur Arsenal into action as Newcastle’s wave of attacks continued and several chances – including a daring, long-range attempt to lob Aaron Ramsdale – fell on Callum Wilson.
But it was Bruno Guimarães, after Wilson was denied by Ramsdale with five minutes left, who scored Newcastle’s second goal and condemned Arsenal to back-to-back defeats after last week’s loss to Tottenham.
“Newcastle were 100 times better than us in every department from start to finish and that’s hard to accept,” said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.
“But you have to accept it and that’s the reality of what happened today on this pitch… We didn’t compete, we never got into the game, we got into trouble at each time, we lost all the duels.
“In all aspects of the game we were second and Newcastle totally deserved to win the game, probably by a bigger margin as well.”
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The result means Arsenal are likely to take part in the Europa League next season, and Europe’s second-tier competition comes with its own unique challenges, namely traveling to Europe to play on a Thursday before returning for a Premier League match at the weekend. end.
This could be difficult for Arteta considering his side have struggled with a lack of squad depth throughout the season.
“The team we were able to build is what we were able to build and it’s the team that got us this far,” the manager said after Monday’s defeat.
Midfielder Thomas Partey has been out since Arsenal’s loss to Crystal Palace in early April, while left-back Kieran Tierney is recovering after undergoing knee surgery last month.
Those injuries – coupled with the decision not to sign more players in the January transfer window – could have contributed to Arsenal’s loss, while indiscipline was also an issue.
Xhaka received a red card in the first half against Manchester City in August, with Arsenal losing the match 5-0.
In the second leg at the Emirates Stadium, defender Gabriel was sent off just before the hour mark with the score at 1-1 in a game that Arsenal were dominating. City won 2-1, scoring their second goal in stoppage time.
And in last week’s 3-0 loss to Tottenham, Rob Holding was shown a red card just after 30 minutes.
Nevertheless, there have also been signs of optimism for supporters this season.
A four-game winning streak before the loss to Tottenham included wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and West Ham, and it will be Arsenal’s best result in the league under Arteta.
As this young side have punched above their weight on several occasions over the past nine months, it will still be hard for fans not to reflect on what could have been: a first Champions League appearance since the 2016/17 season .
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“Technically it’s not over, we can still do it, but we missed two big chances to get into a good position,” said winger Bukayo Saka.
“It’s just too bad.”
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