It wasn’t exactly pretty — far from it, in fact — but Arsenal picked up a narrow 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Saturday. Following the game, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was quite complimentary of his side, despite the fact they needed and own goal to win a game in which they played with a man advantage for 74 minutes.
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Wenger, on the difficulties of playing up a man, during his post-game television interview (above video):
“It was vital for us to win today. We couldn’t win at home, and that’s why it was important to take the three points. It was a game where we showed maturity and we kept our nerves when the game was very physical. It’s always difficult to play 11 against 10 away from home. … Overall, I’m happy we got these three.
“The defense plays very deep, and suddenly you have to show patience not to rush your game and not to expose yourself to counter attacks or set pieces. It’s important to keep a clean sheet and think that at some point we will score.”
On one hand, Wenger has a point. Quite often we’ve seen a side with a man advantage take their foot off the gas and either unnecessarily let a disadvantaged side back into the game, or gift them all three points after thinking they simply had it won.
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In that sense, Wenger’s praise is fair enough. But let’s consider the two sides we’re talking about here, as well as Arsenal’s recent trend of being completely unable to finish their chances. The Gunners held 74 percent of possession in this game — as would be expected — and put nine of their 22 shots on target (compared to Newcastle’s zero-of-one).
This is the kind of game that a side with real title-winning ambitions should be putting to bed before or just after halftime and seeing out in truly boring, uneventful fashion created by lots of frustrating possession over the final 30 minutes. The biggest difference between Arsenal and Manchester City, who look massive favorites to win the Premier League in runaway fashion this season, is that ruthlessness in the final third and inside the 18-yard box. Until Arsenal nail that down, they’ll continue to shuttle back and forth between third- and fourth-place finishes year after year.