Alan Pardew returned to the touchline last night – and right into the crosshairs of a bubbling black and white rebellion.
As he steered his unhappy ship into more unsteady waters in North London, a sixth defeat in a row seemed to bring Newcastle United’s hardcore away support closing to breaking point with a manager who is breaking all the wrong sort of records.
These are difficult, dogged days for Pardew. He had hoped his own return to the fray might focus minds and that Loic Remy, Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko’s return might add the resolve and quality which has been missing from so many of Newcastle’s performances since their horrendous run began.
It was not to be and Pardew was not spared by an away support whose patience was again tested by a display which laid bear the problems which have contributed towards this record-breaking run.
Let’s get this straight, in isolation losing at the Emirates is no sackable offence. Arsenal have run rings round plenty of teams on their own back yard and Newcastle were not in the sort of reprehensibly slack mood which made the Southampton and Manchester United performances so galling.
This is part of a process, though and Pardew knows he has contributed towards that. There are things, no doubt, he wishes he could say about the way the team has been stripped of its best player and not furnished with adequate replacements - but he has not and will not voice any discontent and Mike Ashley pays him to carry the can on nights like this.
The shift in the mood of the away fans in the last two games has been noticeable ,but whether or not it will be significant is another thing.
There were more than a thousand at the Emirates last night and most of them spent the second-half mocking and haranguing their manager when they were not breaking into spontaneous cheers after “pretending” to score a goal.
You could hear them in the ground above the low hum of Arsenal’s expectant home fans, who will again feast on Champions League football next year. Newcastle will hurtle headlong into a summer when they have a huge amount of work to do to get back to even the level of respectability.
The decision for Ashley is whether Pardew is more of a problem than a solution at this point.
The manager is desperate for a chance with a new bunch of players, believing if he can persuade the owner to buy British players like Jonjo Shelvey he can motivate Newcastle into a competitive force again. The problem is with each passing defeat his case weakens.
There was not much of a game plan or riposte to those who suggest he has lost this squad here and if the supporters are beginning to turn that is another problem to knock down in the coming weeks.
This was not the worst of United’s six successive defeats but that is faint praise for an effort that, again, fell well short of any reasonable expectation of a team wearing black and white shirts.
They had 20 minutes at the start when they went toe-to-toe with Arsenal but we are talking miniscule crumbs of comfort here.
Again the logic behind their system was difficult to discern, other than an attempt to hold out against a Gunners side who were the heaviest of favourites with the bookmakers.
The absence of Hatem Ben Arfa gave Pardew’s detractors a stick to beat him with. In reality, in the wake of his constant dressing-room run-ins with the manager his place in the team has become so untenable it seems impossible to select him again - but he becomes a better player in the eyes of the supporters with every passing defeat.
Certainly when a team is so light on creativity, the calls for the inclusion of such a mercurial talent are bound to grow louder.
In his absence, and with Yohan Cabaye a distant memory, they look incredibly ordinary.
United, presumably, had been set up to counter-attack.
Loic Remy was asked to the lead the line but much of his best work has been done with a willing runner beside him so it was no surprise he failed to shine on a ground where he might be playing regularly next season.
In the first 20 minutes it was okay. We have now reached the point in Newcastle’s season where 20 solid minutes constitutes progress and when United repelled Arsenal in those early stages there was a brief flurry of hope they were going to make a game of it.
Granted, United had brought a black and white bus to park in front of Tim Krul’s game but there seemed backbone to their defensive effort.
Coloccini nodded behind when Cazorla tried to breach a wall of away defenders and there was fine, last-ditch defending by Paul Dummett as the Gunners looked to make the most of Everton’s weekend slip-up.
Ozil’s volley whistled past Krul’s post but there was also attacking intent from Newcastle on the counter, the returning Moussa Sissoko neatly working himself some space before sending a shot soaring over the post.
When the Arsenal goal arrived, it was typical of the lazy, clumsy mistakes which have been creeping into Newcastle’s play since they effectively declared the season by selling Yohan Cabaye.
Olivier Giroud had space to run into when Sissoko checked him an arm across his chest - but was he really posing enough of a threat to cede a free-kick?
It was wretched decision-making from a player who is better than that and it proved very costly as Santi Cazorla floated a free-kick invitingly into the box and Laurent Koscielny punished the hesitancy of Krul in the United goal.
In a second, United’s platform for progress in this game was wrenched from under them. Perilously low on confidence, they needed to at least last until half-time but a second goal – courtesy of poor officiating – arrived shortly before the break when Newcastle failed to clear their lines.
Newcatle’s back-line was sprung by Giroud but Ozil was offside when he applied the finishing touch.
It was a dreadfully poor call by Neil Swarbrick and his assistants and Pardew needed it like a hole in the head as he contemplated his half-time team talk. Nothing like kicking a team when they are down.
A change of tack was needed in the second half but Pardew’s approach seemed to be something akin to damage limitation as he stuck cussedly to the formation and personnel he had started with. It was not until deep into the second half when he made his first substitution, bringing Shola Ameobi on for the ineffectual and soon-to-be-departed Dan Gosling.
By then Giroud had nodded a 66th-minute header past Krul to make it three and add another sorry defeat to the six collected by this sorry bunch.
“You’re nothing special, Tottenham scored four,” sang the away fans in between their anti-Pardew chants.
On his return to the front-line, that kind of gallows humour from the away fans will have stung the Newcastle manager.