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, as soon as the noise inside the stadium 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 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 particularly convincing.
“It’s a bit like the story of the season,” said Wenger. “We had 70 per cent 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. That’s what happened today.
“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 very disappointing because I feel it’s very harsh to swallow a defeat like that.
“Of course, the away form is a concern because traditionally we have a very strong record away from home. It has a subconscious weight in our minds.
“Once you’re in a negative spiral like that, it’s very difficult to get out. I feel like today the team gave everything and we have to keep playing like that.”
Except they will not win games playing like this. Arsenal were the better team in the first half, took the lead with a lovely goal, Alexandre Lacazette keeping the perfect body position to hit a volley on the stretch, beyond Martin Dubravka, the assist provided by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
But they failed to control Newcastle’s midfield, where Jonjo Shelvey was once again superb, and paid the price.
They had already had a let off when Rob Holding got back to poke the ball away from Dwight Gayle after he had ran on to Shelvey’s laser-guided pass, but when 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 back of the net by Ayoze Perez.
Arsenal initially responded well, Calum Chambers missing a similar chance to the one taken by Lacazette, the centre-back boasting neither the composure or 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.
It was not a happy memory to take from his Premier League debut, although the England Under-19 international will surely come again.
A game that seemed to be delicately poised at half-time, fizzled out rather than ignited, with neither side mustering a shot until after the hour mark.
Newcastle, though, were the more confident side, the team which needed a win to guarantee their place in the Premier League.
In contrast, Arsenal looked jaded and flat, drained no doubt by their Europa League game against CSKA Moscow on Thursday night, but Arsenal supporters are tired of listening to excuses for what happened next, 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 crossbar and even Wenger’s persuasive argument in support of Video Assistant Referees, after Aubameyang’s penalty claim for a handball by Jamaal Lascelles was turned down, lost their 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 and that every big game this season has been decided by mistakes that could have been avoided with VAR, especially in the Champions League with Manchester City and Liverpool.”
Outstanding from Newcastle! They won the tactical battle, had the grit in midfield and the determination in defence to see it through and the way they created chances was fantastic. Happy birthday Rafa!
90 mins +2
Kenedy is back defending and clears in his own box. Welbeck tries a shot from 20 yards but it's blocked, Joselu goes down at halfway going for a 50/50. That's a soft one and the referee has bought it. That could be it for the game!
Possession: Newcastle vs Arsenal
Three minutes of added time! What a win this would be for Newcastle!
Arsenal still don't seem to have any ideas. Newcastle are battling them in the middle of the pitch, fouling when they need to, breaking things up and look ready to pounce on the counter.
Xhaka has a free-kick wide left though and hooks it in... headed away.
Arsenal try to play out from the back but Newcastle still have the legs to press them and very nearly get lucky!
Arsenal are lining up now on the edge of the Newcastle box, the shot is on... and blocked! Shelvey's long ball goes straight to a defender, it's back in the area and Dubravka doesn't deal with the high ball! Lacazette shoots but hits the side netting!
Jacob Murphy comes on for Ritchie, Iwobi goes off for Arsenal and Eddie Nketiah is on in his place.
Elneny tries a 30 yard shot. Way over the bar. Arsenal running out of ideas now!
Miss: Newcastle 2 - 1 Arsenal (Mohamed Elneny, 83 min)
Slimani can run! I don't remember him being so mobile but he's racing Arsenal players down that left wing and they're struggling to keep up.
Perez is substituted for Joselu. He must be knackered! The whole game has been spent chasing the ball in space then getting back into a defensive shape. Benitez's tactics have worked a treat here, Arsenal too predictable.
Maitland-Niles comes on for Chambers. That gives Arsenal more of an attacking threat down the right.
Slimani has been a menace since coming on! He turns Mustafi inside out, plays the ball into the box at the near post and Perez can shoot! He punts it into the side-netting - some of the ground thought that was in!
Out: Newcastle 2 - 1 Arsenal (Ayoze Pérez, 77 min)
Diame! He has been brilliant all game long and now he reads the play to get back and steal the ball from Lacazette just as he's about to pull the trigger inside the area. Corner to Arsenal... the goalkeeper catches it!
Newcastle slow things down.
Kenedy has space to attack! He sprints down the left, knocks the ball ahead of himself... oh he's done too much there. Holding comes across to win it off him easily.
But now Kenedy is in again! He has a run at goal, the defender chases, he shoots! Deflected and the ball spins in the air! This could drop over the goalie and into the net! OFF THE CROSSBAR!
Attempt Saved: Newcastle 2 - 1 Arsenal (Kenedy, 75 min)
Arsenal overplay and Welbeck loses possession. Dummett wins the ball and Newcastle try to break... but Arsenal work to win it back. Iwobi play in Monreal... he fires a cross in! It hits Yedlin on the chest. Newcastle defending with everyone behind the ball now.
Arsenal want to hit back straight away but Lacazette overruns it at the right wing and puts the ball behind for a goal kick.
Out of nowhere! The ball is high in the air, Slimani powers a header across the edge of the box - brilliant header - and Perez plays a clever little backheel flick to Ritchie. One touch to get close and then another to finish! Great goal!
Newcastle 2 - 1 Arsenal (Matt Ritchie, 68 min)
Iwobi turns on the spot, gets lucky with a bounce to keep the ball as it comes off a defender and then he moves inside onto his left foot and shoots! Just wide!
Welbeck comes on for Willock. He did pretty well, though was caught in possession a couple of times and made a total mess of that shooting chance to make it 2-0. For a debut though, he was impressive. Great movement, good choice of pass.
The ball sits up for Ritchie to hit from 30 yards, and is football law, he has to hit it. His effort flies high and wide.
Out: Newcastle 1 - 1 Arsenal (Matt Ritchie, 65 min)
Benitez makes a sub, taking off Gayle for Islam Slimani. That might mean a wee change of tactics - Slimani can't run like Gayle can so they'll need to find the striker with a different kind of pass. Balls into the channels aren't really on.
Ritchie chases Monreal as they contest a bouncing ball headed towards the Arsenal goal but catches him with a high boot.
Newcastle win it back soon after, Perez comes inside, Kenedy overlaps... the defence deals with the danger. Shelvey hooks a ball ahead of Gayle in the area! But it's a little wide of where he'd want it. The home crowd are making a lot of noise now, they sense they can get something out of this game.
Kenedy is a really good player. Whenever he has the ball and can run with it you feel like something can happen, he makes the right decisions a lot and the ball sticks to his feet.
Aubameyang drops deep to help with buildup. He's meant to be a lot higher up the pitch than that. Iwobi is played in down the right, tries to hit a cross in but it's blocked.
Chambers hits an early cross to the back post, Aubameyang heads back across goal... but Lacazette can't get to it. Dubravnak can pick the ball up.
Possession: Newcastle vs Arsenal
Shelvey's made a mistake though and Iwobi takes it forward... then loses out. And then a long ball into the channel for Perez! Mustafi does well though and tackles.
Mustafi takes his time near the halfway line... takes too much time... he needs to release the ball here! And it's almost intercepted! Newcastle would have had two strikers away there!
Newcastle in a rigid 4-4-2 defensive shape, Arsenal stretch the pitch in attack and work the ball around the penalty area but Newcastle are posed to counter. And that's just what happens! A ball into the middle is intercepted and suddenly the game opens up. Diame read it and took the team forward so quickly. He and Shelvey have been excellent.
Arsenal move the ball around the Newcastle half well, moving into space and using one touch to shift it all over the place. Newcastle soak the pressure up and then look for a quick long pass out.
Monreal swings a cross in from wide left but it comes off Iwobi's hand and Newcastle win the free-kick. Good spot from the referee!
KICK OFF 2
kick off 2
We're back! Arsenal start the second half.
I absolutely love that Thierry Henry talks for about 20 seconds about what he's going to talk about, before he talks about it, every single time. It's great.
He's pointed out that with no Ozil, Arsenal are looking for longer passes over the top and it's stretching the Newcastle defence. Elneny is dropping into space between attack and defence - as you'll have noticed from the average positions, it's basically a two man defence and then everyone else lined up across the attack.
Perez celebrating his goal
Average touch positions (half time)
Hands down the weirdest team shape I've seen at half time from our Roboblogger.
This is a decent game! Two differing styles of football, one goal each.
Newcastle vs Arsenal shots on goal
The stats tell me Arsenal have had a lot more shots than I remember.
Oooooohhhhhhhh dear. Diame is pressed out of possession by Elneny, Lacazette turns and runs at goal. He has space! And as Lacazette is about to shoot, he moves the ball to his left to Willock! But he lets the ball roll straight past him and out for a goal kick.
Ritchie uses quick feet to get the ball set up for a shot as he is closed down in the area. It's low and hard but Cech can get down to save that and smothers.
Martin Dubravka hasn’t had seen a great deal of action but impressed again by his calmness with the ball at his feet and his willingness to break lines with his passing.
— David Preece (@davidpreece12) April 15, 2018
Aubameyang hits it... into the wall! Xhaka chips it over to the back post, Monreal heads across goal and Chambers MUST SCORE! He's missed! That was near identical to Lacazette's chance!
Out: Newcastle 1 - 1 Arsenal (Calum Chambers, 39 min)
Iwobi is wiped out by Lejeune on the edge of the box. It's a late tackle but there's no malice in it - the problem is that Arsenal can shoot from here. Straight down the middle. Xhaka and Aubameyang can hit these.
Chambers goes for a wonder goal, hitting the bouncing ball on the volley from 25 yards. It does not work.
Attempt Saved: Newcastle 1 - 1 Arsenal (Calum Chambers, 36 min)
Shelvey has been outstanding so far. His passing, especially long range from deep, has been exceptional and he's tearing the Arsenal defence apart with it.
Willock is caught in possession and dives into a slide tackle on Perez to recover... he's caught him. It doesn't look particularly bad to be fair. Perez is back on his feet.
Arsenal are on the break from the free-kick!
Newcastle are full of it now and attack Arsenal with another pass into the channel. Chambers faces up to Perez but the striker completely fools him with quick feet and gets by the defender into the area. He passes across the six yard box... but nobody's there to finish! Where's Alan Shearer when you need him?
Brilliant! Another of those long balls to Gayle comes off perfectly. He puts it into the near post early and Perez is in the perfect position, finishing first-time past Cech, who might actually have done better there. Great goal!
Newcastle 1 - 1 Arsenal (Ayoze Pérez, 29 min)
This is great. Perfectly sums up the match so far:
Newcastle vs Arsenal
There's more than one way to cook a potato and Newcastle's attacks are causing havoc!
Elneny threads Aubameyang in, he passes back to Chambers who puts a low cross into the box. Arsenal have their rhythm and look good in attack... but the corner they win is cleared. Perez is urged by the crowd to chase the ball all the way back to Cech. Seems like an awful waste of energy to me but that's what happens in ol' Blighty innit? And it's worked! Cech boots his clearance straight out! Shiver me timbers.
A longball over the top to Gayle is superb! He's in! But Mustafi is covering and wins the ball off him. Arsenal break from the corner.
Sometimes, Diame is absolutely brilliant. Here he uses balance, control, speed and strength to turn two Arsenal players inside out as he does a full 360 of running then chips a pass to the back post for (I think) Perez. A defender gets a head on it but that came out of nothing.
It's really scrappy at the halfway line, with Newcastle and Arsenal players taking bites out of each other. Shelvey goes into a superb sliding tackle to win the ball back - this is the kind of game that he tends to get wound up in. He needs to keep the head screwed on.
Possession: Newcastle vs Arsenal
The ball drops for Iwobi from a throw-in, he shifts it quickly out of his feet and fires a shot at goal. It's straight down the barrel though and Dubravka saves easily.
Attempt Saved: Newcastle 0 - 1 Arsenal (Alex Iwobi, 21 min)
Newcastle try to play out from the back but it hasn't worked very well. Arsenal win the ball high up the pitch and keep up the pressure.
Newcastle win a free-kick near the box but it's chipped straight into Cech's gloves. Cech starts the counter immediately and Arsenal have men over! Aubameyang cuts in from wide left, looks for the space to shoot and does... deflected over! And the replay shows that came off a hand! That should be a penalty.
And it's a good job Lacazette wasn't injured! That's a great goal from Arsenal, a shift in passing style and Aubameyang is wide left, swings a floated cross that lands perfectly for Lacazette to attack and his finish beats the goalkeeper.
Newcastle 0 - 1 Arsenal (Alexandre Lacazette, 14 min)
Kenedy goes in with a strong straight leg on Lacazatte in a 50/50 and the striker goes down. That looked sore but the referee doesn't see anything wrong.
Arsenal are enjoying all the possession but aren't doing much with it in the Newcastle half. When Newcastle get it back they launch balls into the channels for Gayle to chase and that little tactic is working well.
Willock's started well. And look who's here!
Gayle takes a longball from the goalkeeper down and turns to run at goal. It's all a bit scrappy by both sides, and to be expected since Newcastle are looking to go direct with their passing.
Dummett recovers really well as Iwobi skins him with a clever nutmeg by the corner flag. Arsenal look menacing here though and Lacazette drives inside the pitch to get a chance to shoot. He drags his effort wide but the way he worked the space was great.
Miss: Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal (Alexandre Lacazette, 5 min)
Newcastle start on the attack against an Arsenal wearing blue (why?!). A free-kick launched into the area from near halfway is dealt with fairly easily.
newcastle kick off
Arsene Wenger on Mr Willock
"In training he does well, but the real step is in the competition, you have to produce what you can do.
"It’s a good opportunity, I had it in my head to give him this chance before the end of the season and he has one today.
"With my experience, you can see if he’s right at the level in the first match"
You'd think someone would go: "69? Can it be another number?"
It's a lovely day
The state of that Arsenal team
This is Wenger's 'I don't care about the league anymore' team, as though he's deliberately trying to avoid getting into the Europa League. Maybe it'll work, who knows. Joe Willock, who wears number 69 (come on!) makes his Premier League debut in a formation I can't quite figure out.
Can you imagine a world where a defence made of Chambers, Mustafi and Holding challenges for the league title?
Three centre-backs... unless Chambers is a right-back... and that means Willock gets to start in midfield. Could be a 4-3-3 with Aubameyang off the left. Xhaka and Elneny will provide some defensive cover for Willock to have a bit of fun with higher up the pitch.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) April 15, 2018
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) April 15, 2018
Lacazette and Aubamayang upfront together! How exciting.
Everybody loves Elneny
Arsene Wenger believes Mohamed Elneny is starting to show his best form for Arsenal.
The 25-year-old has had to be happy with a place on the fringes of the Arsenal first team since joining from Basel in January 2016.
But this season the Egypt international has taken on a more pivotal role, especially in the Europa League where he has featured in all of the Gunners' games.
Wenger's side will face Atletico Madrid in the semi-final of that competition later this month, with Elneny no doubt hopeful of being involved.
He set up both of Arsenal's goals as they came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with CSKA Moscow in the second leg of their quarter-final on Thursday, helping the Premier League side to a 6-3 aggregate win.
"He a super-popular player and everybody inside the club loves him," Wenger told the club's official website.
"But he's not only loved, he is also a very good player and he showed that in Moscow.
"In the second half in Moscow he played in defence then afterwards, when he moved back into the middle of the park, he gave assists.
"He works hard and is generous. Overall, I think he did very well."
Elneny was sent off in last weekend's win over Arsenal, but a decision to overturn his suspension means Elneny will be available to feature at St James' Park this afternoon.