Review: Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle

Theo Walcott bagged a hat trick as Arsenal hit Newcastle with four unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes to give the Gunners a wild 7-3 win. Had Olivier Giroud's late header off the woodwork been a few inches lower, it would have tied the record of 11 for most goals in a Premier League match (Portsmouth beat Reading 7-4 in September of 2007).

It was a match that typified the first half of the 2012-2013 Barclay's Premier League season- plenty of action and drama but desperately lacking in convincing team performances and tactical intelligence. That 10 goals were produced was a shock given the rather dismal performance of both sides in the first 45 minutes- the scoreline is more a reflection of silly mistakes and perhaps fatigue than any scintillating team display. With both teams fielding three man central midfields and getting numbers behind the ball defensively, neither side was able to dominate the midfield in the opening 45 minutes and the game was played at a remarkably slow pace by Premier League standards.

Team tactics played virtually no role in the game and there was very little tactical development over the course of 90 minutes. There was some fine finishing on display, with Walcott in particular deserving of praise for an excellent performance, but lapses in concentration on defense were largely responsible for the bulk of goals. With the scoreline at 3-3, all 6 goals could be blamed on silly errors (footytube highlights here):

  • 1-0 Arsenal. Danny Simpson pushes forward from his right fullback position to join a Newcastle attack. The Magpies lose possession. Arsenal look to counter quickly through Podolski who had burst into the space behind Simpson. Cazorla hits a pass behind Podolski forcing him to turn around and put his back to goal to retrieve the ball. This allows Simpson time to recover. But rather than pressing Podolski and forcing him to go backwards, he continues to retreat towards his own goal, allowing the German winger the space to turn, lift his head and slot a through ball to Walcott.
  • 1-1. Bacary Sagna makes a silly foul on Papiss Cisse in a dangerous area just outside the box.
  • 2-1 Arsenal. A horribly underthrown throw in from Danny Simpson falls to the head of Podolski- he's able to play his header forward to Cazorla whose pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain is finished off well by the Arsenal teenager. I realize it sounds like I'm looking for someone to blame pinning the goal on a throw in but watch the highlights at 2:18: it really is a dreadful throw in that gets nowhere near a Newcastle player.
  • 2-2. Sylvain Marveaux is 40 yards from goal when Obertan collects the ball on the left wing in the build up to Newcastle's second goal. He makes a casual run towards the back post as Obertan dribbles at Sagna. Not a single Arsenal player notices his run in the entire sequence and he's allowed to tap in the simplest of goals unmarked at the back post.
  • 3-2 Arsenal. Tiote is carelessly nicked of possession by Wilshere in midfield leading to an Arsenal counter that ends in Podolski's tap in header. Wilshere did excellently to close in on the Ivorian midfielder but Tiote got his first touch stuck under his feet leaving him unable to get rid of the ball before Wilshere could pounce.
  • 3-3. Marveaux bursts forward with the ball from midfield. Sagna and Wilshere have the chance to double team for Arsenal at the 18. The two fail to communicate and both back off allowing Marveaux to pick his head up and play a clever ball to Ba at the back post with the outside of his foot. Gibbs was guilty of ball watching and switching off on Ba.
Arsenal's fourth was the first goal of the game that had more to do with the team shape of the attacking team than mistakes by the defensive team. Throughout the second half Podolski had been tucking inside on the left, forcing Danny Simpson to track him into the middle of the box and leaving space for Gibbs to overlap in the channel.  On the fourth, Podolski mad a run into the center of the box. Simpson followed and Gibbs dutifully made the overlapping run into space and provided the cut back for Walcott to smash home.

Arsenal's fifth, sixth and seventh goals came when the game had become very open. That Walcott had a hand in all three was no surprise. His pace and ability to run in behind defense is suited for open games, something he stated himself in the post match interview. He turned provider for Olivier Giroud for the fifth and sixth goals and finished off his hat trick in style with a slaloming run into the box for the seventh.