A seething Granit Xhaka laid into his Arsenal teammates after their disastrous defeat at Newcastle and said they did not “have the balls to play” as their Champions League hopes all but disappeared.
Arsenal must beat Everton on Sunday and hope Tottenham lose at relegated Norwich if they are to make the top four; they were soundly beaten at St James’ Park by a Ben White own goal and a late clincher from Bruno Guimarães, and Xhaka’s extraordinary intervention was almost certainly born of frustration at letting a golden opportunity slip.
“From the first minute to the 90th we didn’t deserve to be on the pitch today,” Xhaka said. “What happened was a disaster performance and like this you don’t deserve to play Champions League, you don’t even deserve to play Europa League. It’s very hard to take at the moment. I don’t know why we’re not doing what the coaches ask for.
“If someone isn’t ready for this game, stay at home. It doesn’t matter the age. If you’re not ready or you’re nervous, stay on the bench, stay at home, don’t come here. We need people to have the balls to come here and play. We knew this game was maybe the most important for us but, with a performance like this, it’s not acceptable.”
Arteta’s outlook was no sunnier and the manager admitted his side had never got started. “Normally I sit here and I can defend [the team],” he said. “Today Newcastle were 100 times better than us in every department from beginning to end and it is very hard to accept it. We didn’t cope, we didn’t compete. We never got into the game. We put ourselves in trouble, we lost every duel. Newcastle deserved to win the game, probably by a bigger margin.”
He stopped short of saying he felt let down by his side, which has been stretched to the bare bones by injury. “No, I am the maximum responsible,” he said. “If someone has created an expectation this year, it is those players and I will always defend them. But [tonight] that is a really difficult thing to do.”
Eddie Howe could bask in a performance he called “our best by some distance since I was at the club” and a first win over top-six opposition for Newcastle this season. “It’s a step forward, definitely,” he said. “I think you saw a progression and evolution to how we played.”