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Wenger's men stuck in 'negative spiral' as they crumble again

Newcastle 2 Arsenal 1

Matt Ritchie kicks the corner flag in Arsene Wenger (11 in 2005-06)
celebration after his goal. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters
Matt Ritchie kicks the corner flag in Arsene Wenger (11 in 2005-06) celebration after his goal. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters

Luke Edwards

Arsene Wenger knows what the problem is, he recognises the flaws. He just does not know what to do about it, as Arsenal's reputation as the crumbliest, flakiest team in the Premier League received another unwanted boost.

This was the Gunners' fifth successive away league defeat and Wenger is now openly embracing the idea that too many Arsenal players are mentally fragile, stuck in a negative spiral and seemingly incapable of escaping from it.

Arsenal look like a spent and fading force, a team that has more in common with those scrapping in mid-table than those competing for the title. This was not a victory for a plucky Newcastle United team, it was a persuasive one.

As soon as pressure was exerted, and the ferocity of Newcastle's tackles made things uncomfortable for them, Arsenal melted like a chocolate bar in front of an open fire.

It is an all too familiar story and an all too familiar sight. This was their 11th defeat of the Premier League season. This feeling of disappointment, the frustration, the anger; it is no longer a new sensation: it is the Arsenal way.

Asked what he could do about rectifying Arsenal's poor away form, Wenger puffed out his cheeks and blew hard. Words followed, but none of them were convincing.

Arsenal's Nacho Monreal in action with Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Arsenal's Nacho Monreal in action with Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

"It's a bit like the story of the season," said Wenger. "We had 70pc of the ball, we are 1-0 up and, in the end, you lose 2-1 and you wonder how you can lose this game.

"I think the game could have been over at half-time. We conceded two goals from nowhere. In the second-half, I feel that some players paid a little bit physically having played the game on Thursday night in Moscow. We came back on Friday morning late.

"Overall, we played with a good spirit, but with a bad result. We have to deal with that unfortunately. It's disappointing because I feel it's harsh to swallow a defeat like that.

"Of course, the away form is a concern because traditionally we have a very strong record. It has a subconscious weight in our minds. Once you're in a negative spiral like that it's very difficult to get out."

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters

They will not win games playing like this. Arsenal were the better team in the first-half and took the lead with a lovely goal, Alexandre Lacazette keeping the perfect body position to hit a volley on the stretch, beyond Martin Dubravka.

But they failed to control Newcastle's midfield, where Jonjo Shelvey was once again superb.

Arsenal had already had a let-off when Rob Holding got back to poke the ball away from Dwight Gayle after he had run on to Shelvey's laser-guided pass. Then the same players linked up with an almost identical move, Gayle's first touch took him away from the defender, laying the ball off to DeAndre Yedlin, whose first-time cross was smashed into the net by Ayoze Perez.

Arsenal responded well, with Calum Chambers missing a similar chance to the one taken by Lacazette, the centre-back boasting neither the composure nor the technique of a £50 million centre-forward.

Chambers also put a header over from a corner, but the biggest opportunity spurned came just before the break, when Lacazette was gifted possession by the otherwise excellent Mohamed Diame, but then hit his pass far too strongly to Joe Willock, who shinned his shot well wide.

Newcastle, though, were the more confident side after the break, as the team which needed a win to maintain their place in the Premier League.

In contrast, Arsenal looked jaded and flat as a header from Islam Slimani, flicked on by Perez into the path of Matt Ritchie, who finished clinically.

Newcastle almost scored a third when Kenedy hit the bar and even Wenger's argument in support of VAR, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's penalty claim was turned down, lost its impact.

"Unfortunately, the Premier League has again decided not to go for VAR and, personally, I believe that is a very, very bad decision," Wenger said. "The Premier League has been created with people who had a progressive mind and wanted to be in front of the rest in Europe. It worked. I believe that, with that decision, we are behind the rest in the world." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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