Premier League 2018-19: Newcastle tactically a mess in Arsenal defeat
Steve Bruce took charge of Newcastle United for the first time against Arsenal in the opening game of the 2019/2020 Premier League season. Newcastle named record signing Joelinton in their starting lineup as Bruce preferred to stick with the 3-5-2 formation deployed by Rafa Benitez for much of last season.
However, Bruce tweaked the formation slightly by adding his stamp to it with the deployment of three central midfielders; Jonjo Shelvey, Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden. Miguel Almiron was used in the hole behind Joelinton and those tweaks worked well in congesting the space in the middle of the park during the opening period, denying space to Arsenal's fluent attack while creating opportunities for the counter.
On two occasions, Newcastle nearly caught Arsenal on the counter-attack, with Jonjo Shelvey having a terrific shot smash off the woodwork, and late in the half, Joelinton spun past Arsenal defence but tamely hit a shot that was easy for Leno to gather up. Arsenal slowly worked their way back into the match after these sporadic attacks by the home side, and never looked threatened again during the match. The sides went in even at the break, but Newcastle would have been ruing those missed chances.
Arsenal took control of the second half from kick-off, but really started to turn the screws when Bruce decided to replace two of his central midfielders, first an injured Jonjo Shelvey was replaced by Jetro Willems on 54 minutes. Willems came onto the pitch and looked confused about where he was supposed to play.
This caused confusion for Newcastle who began to lose their shape, then Willems appeared to be waiting for the ball to arrive at his feet, after an under-hit pass by Fabian Schär. Ashley Maitland-Niles was fast-thinking, and intercepted the pass, before racing down the wing to put in a cross that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gratefully accepted by knocking it past Martin Dubravka to put Arsenal 1-0 up.
After the match, Newcastle Head Coach, Steve Bruce said about the mix-up, "It was just a lack of communication with him, I wanted to put Matt Ritchie inside and play Willems in his position. That was quickly sorted out, not a problem."
Newcastle's second substitute caused more tactical confusion, with Sean Longstaff being replaced by Allan Saint-Maximin. Matt Ritchie and Isaac Hayden were supposed to be playing midfield, but for the majority of the second half, Hayden seemed to be occupying the centre midfield spot on his own, as Ritchie naturally drifted left, where he felt more comfortable. Newcastle offered no threat during the second half, and Arsenal didn't need to get out of second gear, as they comfortably wrapped up their first win of the season.
Newcastle lost their shape, and were a mess tactically, which is something that will concern Newcastle fans especially with Steve Bruce admitting after the game that Willems didn't know where he was playing. Bruce put it down to communication errors, but Bruce was not a popular appointment at Newcastle, and the pressure will build if the tactical mess is not sorted out before they travel to Norwich next weekend.