I have always held Rafa Benítez in high regard and when Arsenal were looking for a new manager, Benitez came to my mind. Vastly experienced and incredibly underrated, Benitez has performed miracles at Newcastle with little or no help from the owner, Mike Ashley.
Last season Benitez managed to guide Newcastle to a memorable win over the Gunners with a creative and committed performance that left Arsenal fans slightly embarrassed.
He may not have the best players but he can bring out the best from the existing players.
Arsenal have no such problems, their pay scale is through the roof and they have the potential, if not the desire, to compete financially with any club, for any player. They would have been in an even stronger position if former shareholder Alisher Usmanov had been invited onto the board but that was never going to happen.
The clash of the ‘haves and have-nots’ took place on Saturday and again, it was the savvy performance of Benitez’s Newcastle that shone brightly, particularly in the first half. They had possession, lots of it, but as we know only too well, you don’t win games by keeping the ball until such time that fishes sprout legs.
Arsenal looked very disjointed and Cech and Mustafi managed to make playing out from the back look extremely complicated. You would have thought someone had asked the pair to split an atom with a bread knife because neither looked comfortable. Mustafi passed back to Cech early on and instead of simply returning the pass, Cech sliced it out for a corner, not for the first time this season.
The Benitez game plan was to press a creaky Arsenal back four and it so nearly paid off. Not long after the first gaffe, Mustafi contributed to the Newcastle cause, by mistiming an interception by the length of a small family car. Newcastle surged forward sensing first blood but Sokratis was unusually quick off the blocks to snuff out the opportunity.
With the system Unai Emery is employing at present, he needs to further find a solution to the ongoing riddle rather quickly and Torreira could be just the man. After an awkward first 45, Torreira replaced Guendouzi and Arsenal looked a different side. My least favourite player, Granit Xhaka, started looking like a creative midfielder, whilst Torreira fizzed and bubbled with quick incisive passes and speed of thought.
His pass to Lacazette produced a free kick as the Arsenal forward was unceremoniously dumped on to the turf. Xhaka took the resulting kick and thumped it over the wall into the top right corner. The Swiss midfielder wasn’t finished there, it was his cross into the box that scrambled the Newcastle defence. Lacazette, who was Arsenal’s most obvious threat, connected perfectly and the resulting block spun into the path of Mesut Ozil.
The German, who always seems to have time on his hands in any given situation, calmly placed it past the sprawling Dubravka and absent Newcastle defence. Torreira caught the eye with his urgency and speed, constantly pushing forward and making simple, direct and penetrative passes to the feet of his teammates. Xhaka was presented with a free pass by the Uruguayan’s presence, to go higher up the pitch and worry less about his alien holding midfielder role.
Even though I like Guendouzi, he may have to sit out the next game to see if Xhaka and Torreira can perform together, if so, Lacazette and Aubameyang may feel Christmas has come early. Aubameyang seemed strangely off his game on occasion, he could have added a glossy and flattering third, but instead saw his attempt spin tamely away from the far post into no man’s land.
Newcastle scored through Ciaran Clark in the 90th minute but they were missing the creative play of Jonjo Shelvey who only made the bench and they lacked the presence of quality striker to get on the end of Matt Ritchie’s killer crosses. If only Ashley had stopped worrying about selling the club and backed Benitez with cash, perhaps they wouldn’t be looking down the barrel of a gun so early in the season. If they are relegated, it would cost them more than a decent stream of revenue from televised games, it may cost them a manager.
Surely Benitez won’t suffer another season in the championship with an owner that has plenty of surplus cash but no ambition. As for Arsenal, there is no evidence of them either getting back into the top four or challenging for the title. If Emery persists with his playing philosophy, then he needs to incorporate players that can build bridges between the defence, midfield and attack. Lucas Torreira is that man. The majority of fans, including myself, have been begging for the player to start. Perhaps now, he will be given the chance to show his full array of talents.
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