LIFE certainly wasn’t a beach for Newcastle United’s players for 45 minutes at St James’s Park.
Thankfully, they came out for the second half wearing boots – and not flip-flops.
Thoughts of the summer can wait.
John Carver had reminded his team of Phil Neville’s criticism of them at Goodison Park the previous weekend before Saturday’s home game against Arsenal.
Carver attempted to use Neville’s Match of the Day 2 comments about Newcastle’s players already “having their flip-flops on ahead of the summer” as extra motivation.
Yet despite a promising start, United trailed 2-0 at the break.
And some fans, fearing the worst, left the stadium at half-time, presumably in search of a stiff drink after a limp performance from a depleted Newcastle team.
Would Arsenal go on to score three, four or even five goals without reply?
Carver had also, publicly, talked about the need for a “clearout” at St James’s Park in his pre-match Press conference.
Some players, in Carver’s view, were “not good enough”.
Certainly, the first-half performance wasn’t good enough.
And the likes of Vurnon Anita, Yoan Gouffran, Sammy Ameobi and Mike Williamson did little to enhance their reputations in front of watching club owner Mike Ashley ahead of the anticipated summer cull.
Players weren’t marked, passes weren’t completed and balls weren’t chased down.
And Arsenal’s two goals – scored, predictably, by Olivier Giroud – were entirely preventable.
United’s reshuffled team, with right-back Daryl Janmaat in central defence, actually started well enough.
They defended deep and in numbers, and Ayoze Perez, finally restored to the starting XI, threatened with his pace.
But a clumsily-conceded free-kick led to Arsenal’s opening goal, kneed past Tim Krul by Giroud in the 25th minute. From that moment on, things unravelled.
Three minutes later, Giroud beat Williamson to head a Santi Cazorla corner past Krul.
And Newcastle were fortunate to go into the break trailing by only two goals.
There were a few empty seats for the start of the second half, and but those inside the stadium were off their seats over the next 45 minutes as United, unrecognisable from the first half, tore into Arsenal.
A clever pass from Ryan Taylor set away Remy Cabella, also back in the team, and his pull-back found stand-in captain Moussa Sissoko side-footed the ball past David Ospina.
United played with pace and purpose, and and it looked like something had to give, but somehow, Arsenal kept them out.
Wenger, however, had seen it coming, and he felt his team were made to “suffer”.
Asked if the game reminded him of the 4-4 between the two sides four years ago, he said: No, but if you look at the stats for Newcastle, they score 75 per cent of their goals in the second half.
“We knew it was important to not let them get back to 2-1 and what happened?
“Exactly what we didn’t want to happen. We suffered after that for 40 minutes.”
Carver’s players were applauded off the field at the final whistle, a scenario few could have imagined at the break.
But most fans still need convincing that Carver is the right man to lead the team beyond the end of the season.
And most are still highly sceptical about talk of substantial summer “investment” in a squad which has again been found wanting at both ends of the pitch.
Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley, we’re told, have recognised the club made a mistake by failing to invest in the January transfer window.
It’s that and previous transfer-window failures, coupled with a glut of injuries and suspensions, left Carver with just 13 fit senior outfield players for the Arsenal game.
That’s nowhere near enough. Newcastle can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past in the summer.
If they do, next season will be a lot, lot worse.