Monday night's Premier League clash between Newcastle United and Arsenal was only ever going to have one winner. The joke circulating around of late has been that Alan Pardew's Newcastle side are already on their holidays and their display at the Emirates Stadium did little to dampen those criticisms.
A 3-0 away defeat to Arsenal is, of course, nothing disgraceful. However, the damning verdicts of Pardew post-match have largely concerned his side's lacklustre showing in sinking to a sixth straight defeat.
Newcastle United's last six Premier League games: W0 D0 L6. Goals for: 1. Goals against: 17.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 29, 2014
Indeed, to make matters worse, the Toon have scored just twice in their last eight fixtures. The January exit of Yohan Cabaye, left unreplaced, has left the side deprived of its best player and, perhaps more damning, aware of the lack of ambition of the club's senior figures.
This is not just Pardew's mess, but his side are doing little to help his already weak standing in the eyes of the club's fans. Their performance was not up to expected standards.
Easy pickings for Arsenal's forwards
The major weakness in Newcastle's tactical setup was clear from early in the encounter, as pointed out in the game's opening stages by Zonal Marking's Michael Cox.
Newcastle defence playing high but no pressure on Arsenal back four in possession, simple chips over top look the order of the day here..,— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) April 28, 2014
Of course that means Arsenal need midfield runs. Has only happened a couple of times from Ramsey and Ozil, but looked dangerous both times— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) April 28, 2014
The pictures taken from the live footage below show the issue identified by Cox. Newcastle were content to back off and allow Arsenal to carry the ball to the halfway line. However, they were also seeking to play a high defensive line.
Given time on the ball and a relatively short passing distance to pick out runners into the space behind the defence, Arsenal have the quality of player that will eventually succeed.
The situation detailed above occurred on numerous occasions during the game. Either Pardew had set his side instructions that were clearly counter-productive or, more likely, his side were failing to adequately follow through with his demands that they press defenders as they near the halfway line.
Despite the obvious threat, Arsenal would eventually open the scoring through Laurent Koscielny from a set-piece situation.
For a side like Newcastle, to concede from a set piece against Arsenal would have been sickening. Set-piece goals are often entirely preventable and this was no different.
Moussa Sissoko was the man responsible for marking Laurent Koscielny and, while a physical presence, he showed his lack of defensive instincts to allow the Arsenal man to sneak ahead of him as the ball came in. It was all too simple.
Arsenal's second, five minutes before half-time, would kill the game and it came exactly as foreseen above.
There you go, easy chip over the top. Arsenal have got all day to play those balls— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) April 28, 2014
Mikel Arteta carried the ball from deep and was given all the time he required to loft a ball over the top of the defence to Olivier Giroud. While the Frenchman messed up his attempt to score, Mesut Ozil was on hand to finish.
If it was obvious to observers at home, Pardew should have been rectifying the situation from his pitch-side vantage point.
At no point in the game, though, did Newcastle appear to be busting a gut to win and they rarely threatened an Arsenal side that has been shown to, at times, be fragile. It was a poor display all-round, compounded by the loss of a third goal in the second half.
Where do Newcastle go from here?
As discussed above, the Magpies' post-January form has been atrocious. Over the New Year period they were within touching distance of the likes of Liverpool but have fallen apart in dramatic style since.
Pardew's ban for headbutting an opposition player didn't help proceedings, but another poor transfer window in January highlighted that the club's priorities do not lie in improving their league position.
Newcastle fans sing: 'Alan Pardew it's six [defeats] in a row' Now Arsenal fans joining in— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) April 28, 2014
A lot of blame has been placed upon the foreign players for their "mercenary" attitude and upon Pardew for the results, both with good reason. But, the problems at Newcastle start from the top.
Changing Pardew will only do so much, but it feels like the time has come for him to move on. The summer window, meanwhile, must be better than three of the last four in which minimal work has been done to improve the squad.
Cabaye has gone, while Loic Remy will almost certainly head elsewhere in the summer. Hatem Ben Arfa, meanwhile, has seemingly been isolated from the squad. Newcastle, before even thinking of improvements, have three major talents to replace in the coming months.
The fans' frustration is clear and understandable. Monday's performance, meanwhile, was unacceptable in the manner of defeat. Arsenal are a good side, but to make it so easy for them is almost unbelievable from such an experienced team and manager.
After seven straight defeats, the final two matches are crucial to the future of both Pardew and several of his playing staff.