Fourplay gets us going: Newcastle report & player ratings

Four goals, four different scorers, four contenders for Man of the Match… not a bad way to spend a stormy Sunday afternoon.

Since Mikel Arteta took over from Unai Emery we’ve had more draws than a Welsh dresser.

But with our defensive solidity and team organisation gradually improving it always felt like a matter of time before the dam would burst and we gave someone a proper spanking.

Yesterday was that day. The dam was duly breached and poor old Newcastle United (and their likeable manager Steve Bruce) were the spankees.

We started the day level on points with the Barcodes, who were on an eight game unbeaten run, so this was hardly a foregone conclusion.

An extended break in Dubai had given Arteta his first real chance to work properly with the team without the pressure of imminent games. We all wondered whether this exercise would mean changes in the look of the team and El Patron did not let us down.

Misfiring Lacazette was dropped and Eddie Nketieh preferred at centre forward; there was no Torreira or Guendouzi, with Ceballos getting his first start under Arteta; Mustafi got the nod ahead of Sokratis and Saka kept his place at left back despite Kolasinac being available.

With all that preparation time and so many bold selection decisions, it seemed inevitable we’d come out of the blocks like Usain Bolt, right? Wrong.

For half an hour we were mostly terrible: misplaced passes, lack of running off the ball, no control in midfield, no goal threat… it was as if our minds were still on the beach in Dubai.

Newcastle had been busy in the January window and had two debutants eager to make an impression (former Spud Danny Rose, who looked liked he’d eaten too many boxes of Cadbury’s Roses, and Valentino Lazaro). They took the game to us and were getting into dangerous positions at will. Lazaro, in particular, was causing problems for Bellerin.

Only a smart save from Leno (after a shot was diverted by Ceballos’s head) kept us from going behind.

It was painful viewing and the crowd was starting to grumble.

Then, about 30 minutes in, something changed. Feel free to share your opinions of what that something was, but to my mind it was that one key player stepped up and took hold of the game.

That man was Mesut Ozil, a player to whom Winston Churchill’s famous description of Russia (a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma) could just as easily apply.

Regardless of Ozil’s skills – and they are silkier than a silkworm in a slinky nightgown – people often say they wish he would “boss” games more. Well, that’s exactly what he did here.

Suddenly he was everywhere in the middle of the park, receiving passes and moving the ball on quickly, finding team mates in great positions and opening up our play. This in turn forced Newcastle onto the back foot and reduced the threat they had been posing.

It was 0-0 at half time but you could see we were getting the upper hand, and the second half continued in the same vein. Xhaka-Ceballos-Ozil had somehow transformed themselves from the Three Stooges of the first half hour into a Holy Trinity that controlled the rest of the game.

The first goal, after 54 minutes, was a fine header from Aubameyang (inexplicably unchallenged in the Toon box) after a simple cross from Pepe. Three minutes later came the best goal of the game: Aubameyang fed Saka down the left wing, the young Londoner bamboozled two defenders with a neat turn and a nutmeg and pulled back a low cross for Pepe. Pepe’s finish was pure class. I know it looked easy, but many players would have blasted it and I loved the fact that Pepe passed it into the corner of the net. That sort of composure and clear thinking in front of goal betokens many more sweet scores to come.

We had one or two scares at 2-0, including a good effort by Saint-Maximin which came back off the inside of the post, but overall we were still in control.

We wrapped it up late on, first with an Ozil tap-in following a wonderful spell of pass-and-move play. Lacazette’s neat turn and pass for the assist was nice, too. Then Laca finally ended his goal drought after nice set-up play by Willock (on as a sub) and Pepe.

After a shaky start it turned out to be an excellent team performance with many stand-out players. I have seen people suggest four different options as Man of the Match – Pepe, Ozil, Saka and Ceballos – which shows how good we were.

Here’s hoping this is the start of a run of wins and a climb up the table. The confidence this performance will bring will certainly do no harm.

Player Ratings

Leno 7

Made saves when called on. Didn’t do anything wrong.

Bellerin 6.5

Struggled in the first half hour as Newcastle attacked down our right, but settled down thereafter and did well.

Saka 8

What a talent this young man is. Fast, fearless, strong and skilful.

Mustafi 7.5

Won everything in the air against a big physical team, used the ball well and opted for Row Z when called for. A very encouraging performance.

Luiz 7

Organised and tidy. His reading of the game was first rate.

Xhaka 7

Frustrating as his silly yellow card was, he played a full part in us taking control of the game after the first 30.

Ceballos 8

A surprise inclusion in the starting line-up, Dani was excellent throughout and was our best player in the early part of the game when the rest of the team was struggling. He can dribble and can see a pass, but I was also encouraged by his willingness to get stuck in.

Ozil 8.5 MOTM

A Mesut Masterclass. On this kind of form he is absolutely world class. He pulled the strings and Newcastle were tied in knots. His late goal shades him the MOTM honour just ahead of the other contenders.

Aubameyang 7

He was too wide in the first period of play and his touch looked off once or twice. At half time Arteta instructed him to get closer to Nketieh and that saw him become much more involved. He was involved in a lot of our good link-up play (including for Pepe’s goal) and got the scoring started with a well directed header.

Pepe 8

OK, I’ll confess I was starting to have some doubts about Pepe, but this performance blew them away. He was a constant threat and took his goal really well. If he can keep this form up we have a real player on our hands.

Nketieh 6.5

Little service in the first half hour, but worked hard. Should have got on the scoresheet with a shot that hit the crossbar. It was certainly difficult (the ball was slightly behind him) but he needs to put those types of chances away.


Torreira 6

Tidy, but had little to do.

Lacazette 7

Got his goal. More now please, Laca.

Willock 6

Not much time to make an impression, but he was involved in our final goal.



41 Responses to Fourplay gets us going: Newcastle report & player ratings

  1. RockyLives says:

    Hope you don’t mind, but I’m copying your comment from the end of the last thread so it doesn’t end up orphaned!

    Kelsey says:
    Good Morning
    The game changed at 0-0 when Leno made a wonder save from a shot deflected off Dani and to be honest we were not at the races for most of the first half. 2 qick goals in the second half sealed it and Saka really got into the game a real talent who had an awkward first half as did ohers. I gave Ozil my man of the match as he was involved for the whole game and was our best overall player over 96 minutes.Really pleased for Lacazette and Pepe if he knuckles down will be an outstanding left footed player.Glad that the man of the match has thrown up a numer of players. A bit premature to think of finishing fifth but hopefully this biggest win of the season will bode well for all the squad.

  2. RockyLives says:

    And Kelsey basically predicts my entire post but does it much more succinctly 😀

    Glad we agree on Ozil as MOTM.

    My son was adamant it should be Pepe and in comments last night others went for Saka and Ceballos.

    Nice problem to have…

  3. RC78 says:

    No comments except thanks for the post and I d have given the exact same grades except I d have 7.5 for Dani, 8.5 for Saka and he d have gotten my MOTM.

  4. VP says:

    whoop whoop whoop

  5. Rasp says:

    Terrific Rocky … I’m still buzzing from the highlights (I didn’t see the game live)

    There were so many plusses and good performances. Ozil made me eat every negative word I have ever said about him. All he needed was a manager who understood him. …. which brings me to the one overpowering positive … and that is Mikel Arteta.

    I was surprised by his team selection before the game but opted to trust his judgement … I don’t think I’ll be doubting him again!

    Not only is he systematically working out the complex jigsaw of previously disparate players, he’s improving them, making them a team, injecting them with belief and making them fight for their places. We know that if we underperform in the first half he will have analysed the problems and be able to communicate what he wants to the players and motivate them to execute the right game plan in the second half.

    Maybe it is no coincidence that our steady improvement is occurring when City are in apparent decline.

  6. RockyLives says:

    Well Rasp, you did predict that result yesterday…

  7. Pete the Thirst says:

    A rare victory and it feels good!

    My MoTM between Pepe (1 goal & 2 assists) & Saka. The nutmeg on the fullback showed real confidence.

    Newcastle were hard to break down in the first half, but melted in the 2nd, even if the score flattered us.

  8. Rasp says:

    😂 Rocky … in fairness, I said I can see a 3 or 4 goal victory coming – but not necessarily in this game … so only partially prescient.

    I think you or someone else said we have some winnable games coming up, but when I updated the stats widgets I saw we have City away after Everton … is this a sign of your growing confidence? 😂

  9. LBG says:

    The pure silkiness of his posts……
    Agree, agree, agree. Who cares which of our multi Men of the Match was top dog. If you want almost faultless give it to our other German World Cup Winner (Thought that was as likely from me as voting for RVP for anything!)
    Interesting to see the idiot John Cross suggest things are not looking good for Douzi and he could be sold. Mikel picked Dani because he “trained like a new animal” in Dubai. Competition for places in a squad plus knowledge that NOONE is guaranteed a place, is what makes great teams.
    Two other interesting things for me. Stat. “Who played the passes Xhaka (on for 96mins, 7 passes, TORREIRA ( on for 14 mins, 5 passes), Pepe and Saka 4 each.
    Willock’s arrival, not only led to Mesut’s standing ovation ( and a “playful” disguard of his gloves), but a young man immediately into the action, proving MIKEL EXPECTS total commitment from all, all the time. You are after all playing for the greatest Club in the World!

  10. RC78 says:

    I fully agree with Rasp about Arteta:

    1. The team is conceding less goals (and yesterday less chances although a better team may have scored on one or 2 occasions);
    2. The players all seem to say the same thing “We are getting clear instructions about what to do and how to play”
    3. The players are putting the shift for Arteta – Pepe, Ceballos, Nketiah and Auba did a lot of the defensive work required and even Ozil got in the groove
    4. Some players like Mustafi, Xhaka are showing strong personality while new players are emerging like Saka and Martinelli
    5. I don’t know the stats but yesterday in the last half hour, I felt like we had at least one extra spring in our steps compared to Newcastle. We didn’t look like the tired team against Chelsea and Utd.

    Now, there is a big elephant in the room…..Xhaka is Xhaka with all the bads and some goods but all the coaches seem to want to work with him so he is a definite starter. Torreira for me is the best DM but yesterday, Ceballos put in a very good performance for the first half an hour and he has a very good eye for the right pass and is good at dribbling. So will he push to take Torreira’s position? What about Douzi and is Willock now going to play mostly in Ozil’s role?

    I also want to say that our best FB is Saka since Arteta arrived. The kid is truly phenomenal and I think that his rise as FB may mean the end for Kolasinac…

    Anyways – a great performance and now let’s build on it to win the Europa League 🙂

  11. Thank you Rocky for the post, writing and reading about a win is so good for the soul.

    I don’t remember what happened that changed the game but I do remember thinking ‘ooh was that Özil?’ which usually leads to something happening. And the ten minutes before half-time definitely felt different.

    Maybe it was the changing of ends that disrupted the thinking in the first half but whatever it was they got over it.

    I had a discussion with the guys I sit with about Bellerin and Pepe’s lack of mobility in the first half …… neither were pushing to the bi-line and we laughed about Saka not overlapping early in the 2nd half. The push and run I was waiting for didn’t happen until the 85th minute ….. obviously a plan.

    I thought Mustafi was really strong and seems to have stopped his annoying sliding challenges that used to get him (and us) into trouble.

    Have to love them all for lifting my spirits. Onwards and upwards

  12. kelsey says:

    Thanks Rocky,
    we are definitely on the same wavelength. I think Eddie will get more chances as I can’t see us keeping Auba and getting North of £50 million as we don’t want a Ramsey situation again.Of course Martinelli can only hopefully improve, reminds me a bit like Smugger.

  13. RockyLives says:


    Our next fixtures are:

    Everton (H) EPL
    Olimpiacos (H) EL
    Portsmouth (A) FA Cup
    West Ham (H) EPL
    Round of 16 EL (if we progress)
    Brighton (A) EPL
    Round of 16 EL
    Quarter Final FA Cup (if we progress)
    Southampton (A) EPL
    Norwich (H) EPL

    I guess Man City may have been moved because of the Pompey cup game?

  14. RC78 says:

    Everton (H) EPL – 3 points likely but a draw as well
    West Ham (H) EPL – 3 points feasible
    Brighton (A) EPL – 3 points feasible
    Southampton (A) EPL – a draw feasble
    Norwich (H) EPL – 3 points feasible

    @RL – I think we can indeed be rather hopeful and I would say that 11 points would be the least we should expect and I think we can push for 13 to 15 🙂

  15. Rasp says:

    Oops … thanks Rocky …. my widget is wrong … and will have to remain that way until I can next get to it.

    … in that case, I fully agree with your prediction of us winning the next 10 games 😆

  16. RockyLives says:

    Everton is the league fixture that gives me most concern out of that lot. Ancelotti has got them organised and given them some belief.

    I’m glad it’s at our place.

  17. RockyLives says:

    Now now Rasp… let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Peaches will be after us… 😀

  18. RC78 says:

    @RL – Ancelotti is a legendary coach (how he ended in Everton baffles me but he pbbly wanted the challenge and was promised a bit kitty for transfers) plus we have to worry about Walcott and Iwobi wanting to do well vs us… This is the tough one for us indeed although our away form is not great either so I d expect a minimum 11 points and would be happy with 13.

  19. RockyLives says:

    A friend of mine from Dublin is visiting for the Everton game – his two (adult) sons have tickets but he doesn’t.

    On the off chance anyone has a spare he’d be extremely grateful to buy it off you.

  20. RA says:

    Lovely, erudite Post, Rocky, grazie mille. 😀

    I particularly like it when you go all rude (twice) with the Post immediately starting off, as it should, with foreplay and then spanking (so apposite) and then followed up with a wonderful description of Ôzil — ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an egg’, and all the while dressed in a slinky night gown, silkier than a silkworm’s ass’.


    Incidentally, how dare you confuse our erstwhile goalkeeper Petr Cech, and his empty dish, with my scholary study of bionomics!! Tcch ….

  21. RA says:

    Rocky, I do not have a spare ticket for the Everton game, indeed, I regrettably do not have a ticket at all, but history [AA style] tells me your best bet might be to seek the assistance of Princess Peaches — especially if you say, on any such success, ‘Domo arrogato your fluffy Peachness’ as she is a well known polyglot – if you were to believe anything I say. 🙄

  22. RA says:

    Of course this computer is not a polyglot, as it has characteristically misspelt ‘arrigato’ – the dummy!!

  23. LBG says:

    Here’s another small test of Mikel, (although if it were me I would tell them to go boil their heads and report something they know about), press are pushing the suggestion of a “bust up” between Douzi and Mikel in Dubai.
    Get out and correct the speculation boss and play him straight away on Thursday.
    Couldn’t you just line journalists up against a wall and….

  24. RockyLives says:


    Depends whether it’s true or not.

    If Gwen did strop out as reported, Arteta needs to make sure he knows the rules: out of the squad for a couple of games until his attitude improves.

  25. LBG says:

    Always “depends”, Rocky……and that’s my point.

  26. RockyLives says:

    Daily Telegraph is running it as an exclusive, so there may be something in it.

    Or maybe not 😀

  27. LB says:

    My guess is that Arteta is doing to Guendouzi what he has just done to Ceballos………..and look how well that worked out.

    Such a joy to read, excellent post, thanks for the read Rocky.

  28. RC78 says:

    Vecino from Inter is available for less than 30 Mln EUR. Chelsea making a move just like they did on Ziyech and just like Tottenham did with Bergwin. I like Vecino a lot but I prefere Brozovic from Inter and Milinko Savic from Lazio. Brozovic and Milinko Savic r better than Xhaka by far so I wonder if Arteta and Edu r monitoring the Serie A. We could buy both Brozovic and Milinko Savic and then they d be starting as a double pivot ahead of Torreira-Xhaka but we d keep ToR and Xhaka… So we have 4 decent options there…

    Brozo, Savic – Pepe, Ozil, Auba – Laca

    LT, Xhaka -Nelsson? , Willok, Martinelli – Nketiah

    That s very solid indeed

  29. RC78 says:

    Vecino from Inter is available for less than 30 Mln EUR. Chelsea making a move just like they did on Ziyech and just like Tottenham did with Bergwin. I like Vecino a lot but I prefere Brozovic from Inter and Milinko Savic from Lazio. Brozovic and Milinko Savic r better than Xhaka by far so I wonder if Arteta and Edu r monitoring the Serie A. We could buy both Brozovic and Milinko Savic and then they d be starting as a double pivot ahead of Torreira-Xhaka but we d keep ToR and Xhaka… So we have 4 decent options there…

    Brozo, Savic – Pepe, Ozil, Auba – Laca

    LT, Xhaka -Nelsson? , Willok, Martinelli – Nketiah

    That s very solid indeed

  30. RA says:


    You seem to have mastered relativistic time compression @ 5:17 or you have telepathic ability as I could have sworn I knew what you were going to say @ 5:17p.m – 5:17pm.

    Time traveller, eh? 😉

  31. RA says:

    Personally, I, me, myself — do not think that Douzi has done anything untoward on the playing field. He has been fine other than occasionally looking like he has suffered a little from burn out as a result of all the running around he does to compensate for other team members

    Arteta does not strike me as someone who easily loses his cool, so it seems unlikely that there has been some sort of major fallout between the pair.

    I have not read the article (articles??) myself as I do not much care for scuttlebutt, so until there is more evidence that Douzi is likely to be put up for sale, perhaps to help out poor old hard up Kroenke’s transfer finances [ha ha] to help Mikel’s team restructuring next summer — I won’t believe it.

  32. RC78 says:

    @RA – 🙂

    @Sue – Tomorrow PSG is going to Dortmund with
    -> a T.Silva that has yet to rediscover his pre X-mas form,
    -> a Marquinhos that only played half a match since injury, same for Bernat
    -> A Gueye that is just gone missing since October’s injury;
    -> A Verratti back from injury;
    -> A Paredes and Diallo injured
    -> A Neymar that has not played in 2 weeks due to injury;
    -> A misfiring Icardi and a Cavani that needs more playing time;

    so my expected line up is:
    Navas – Meunier, T. Silva, Kimpembe, Bernat – Di Maria, Marquinhos, Verratti – Neymar – Sarabia, Mbappe

    so no Gueye, no Icardi, no Cavani…
    Big worry is the central defense…especially with Haaland, Sancho scoring for fun and then now Hakimi and Guerreiro have also found their striking boots…So if we get away with a high scoring draw, I am happy.

  33. LBG says:

    Still interested in the Douzi debate and views of AAers.
    Mikel is quoted as saying he has made some decisions regarding his selection of players based on who is ” training better, behaving better, and are more applied to deliver on the pitch”.
    As possibly evidenced by Dani on Sunday following training in Dubai like a “new animal”, did Mikel and Arsenal go public with his suggestions about Douzi, as the best way to prompt the right reaction?
    As Rocky says, we dont know if there was a “bust up”, and we dont know how well Douzi trained in Dubai. The young Frenchman seems to divide opinion if other sites are anything to go by, but I have no doubts he will become a star for us and I hope, with two years left on his contract, he is quickly tied down.
    Just to balance my argument, and linked to Mikel’s ” behaving better”, I believe in the last six months Douzi could be accused of copying another member of the squad with lazy, off the ball, foul play and with then arguing vociferously when pulled up, even when every camera in the house together with our own eyes saw he did it! Like the other member of the squad, from the moment he arrived, Douzi has had a kind of arrogance. I hope, in his case, that can be channelled positively for the future.

  34. Aaron says:

    vaR is still $h*te.
    jughead should have been sent off, the aZ shoved into another manure player- goal should have stood, and manure player who should have been sent off scores…my my my.
    Just put that garbage away for the rest of the year.

    Rocky another solid man, the writers here are machines-where does everyone get the time?

  35. Sue says:

    Hey, RC… I’m looking forward to that game!! Haaland’s goal drought only lasted 1 game! Great time to have Verratti back, hey?! All set up to be an absolute banger. Good luck, RC…. I hope they win 👍

  36. fred1266 says:

    Rc78 my partner is an inter fan and he not impressed with veccino, but brozovic hw told me is much better

  37. fred1266 says:

    Did something happen to arteta and douzi

  38. RC78 says:

    @Fred – I agree with your partner. I d take Brozovic any day over Vecino but Vecino is still a quality player.

    @Sue – I am dreading the game and yes it is good to have Verratti back. I think Tuchel will play Marquinhos-Verratti to protect the Central Defense and will ask Meunier to be very cautious. I am quite sure Sarabia will start ahead of Icardi and Cavani – Sarabia has been on fire and he is good at linking up plays. PSG needs to target Hummels, control Dortmund’s threat from the wings. If we do that, we will be OK.

  39. Morning all

    Before we entered into the marathon that was Rocky’s team of the decade, Pete the Thirst sent in a post about Copenhagen 2000 …………… it’s coming up today.

    New Post ………………..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: