• Gunners, chasing a Champions League qualification spot, lose to Newcastle
Arsenal’s defeat by Newcastle United on Monday night was a disaster and their players didn’t deserve to be on the pitch, midfielder Granit Xhaka said in a remarkable rebuke of his teammates.
Arsenal were chasing a Champions League qualification spot, sitting two points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur (68), but were second best throughout in their 2-0 loss at St James’ Park. The hosts dominated the match and scored twice in the second half, first through a Ben White own goal and then a Bruno Guimaraes strike after the Arsenal defence was left flat-footed.
Xhaka did not hold back on what he thought of his side’s performance, which leaves them hoping for a miracle on the final day to avoid a sixth successive season out of Europe’s elite competition. “It’s difficult to find the right words. From the first minute to the 90th we didn’t deserve to be on the pitch,” the Swiss said.
“I can’t explain to you why. We didn’t do what the game plan was, not listening to the coach. What happened was a disaster performance. You don’t deserve to play Champions League or even Europa League. It’s very hard to take it at the moment. I don’t know why we’re not doing what the coach is asking for us.”
The 29-year-old, who has had a turbulent time at Arsenal after being stripped of the captaincy in 2019, denied that inexperience in Mikel Arteta’s squad was a problem. “If someone isn’t ready for this game, stay at home. It doesn’t matter your age. If you’re nervous, stay on the bench or stay at home. You need people to have the balls to come here and play. It’s one of the most important games for us. We’re feeling very disappointed for the people who came over here,” he said.
“Sorry to them (the fans), I don’t have any other words. The dressing room is very quiet. The game plan was totally different to what we did over 90 minutes. We are waiting for six years (to play in Champions League). We had everything in our hands.”
Arteta’s side host Everton, who are fighting against relegation, in their final game of the season on Sunday. The only realistic way Arsenal can now snatch the final Champions League spot away from their north London rivals is if Spurs are beaten by already-relegated bottom side Norwich City on Sunday and Arteta’s side defeat Everton as Tottenham have a far superior goal difference.
“Newcastle were 100 times better than us... In every department you have to earn the right to play and we didn’t do it,” Spaniard Arteta said. “We have to put our head down and accept the performance was nowhere near the standard required for the Champions League. From tomorrow we’ll prepare for Everton. It’s still mathematically possible.”
The Spaniard, who endured a bad start to the campaign before guiding them into contention for a spot in Europe’s elite club competition, said he was responsible for their failures on the pitch.
“I’m responsible all the time,” Arteta said when asked if he felt let down by his players. “If there’s someone who has created an expectation this year that no one at the start of the season would talk about, it is those players and I will always defend them. But tonight, that’s really difficult to do.”
Newcastle started brightly, roared on by their fans in their last home game of the season. Eddie Howe’s side were in the bottom three at Christmas but thanks to their new owners’ spending in the January transfer window, have climbed up the table and only lost once at home in the league in 2022.
They dominated the match and came close to opening the scoring in the 37th minute through Allan Saint-Maximin, who cut in from the wing and jinked his way to the edge of area, but saw his low shot palmed away by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
The breakthrough came shortly after halftime, however, when Joelinton powered down the left wing and sent in a low cross for striker Callum Wilson but it came off Arsenal defender White and into his own net. The hosts had plenty of chances to double their lead and finally did in the 85th minute when Wilson ran through on goal but the ball ricocheted off Ramsdale into the path of Guimareas who side-footed it in. The win, Newcastle’s first in the league over Arsenal since April 2018, means Howe’s side move up to 12th in the standings.
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