Newcastle United’s FA Cup third round exit at Arsenal exposed Steve Bruce for shamefully wasting Andy Carroll in the absence of Callum Wilson on Saturday.
Bruce took the precautionary decision to omit Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey from his matchday squad in order to prevent either sustaining an injury at the Emirates Stadium, but he expects both to be involved in Tuesday night’s Premier League trip to Sheffield United.
Carroll was given only his fourth start of the season as he was picked to lead the line in north London, and he came close to sending the Toon through to the next round too, but he squandered two glorious chances in closing stages as the tie went to extra time.
Arsenal would have had little time to recover had Carroll sent Newcastle into the lead inside the final minute of the second-half, yet the former England international saw Bernd Leno react quickly to smother his shot.
The forward had already been made to rue his wasteful shooting moments earlier, with Carroll timing his run to perfection to stay onside only to side-foot wide an effort that Alan Shearer would later claim “can only be defined as an absolute sitter”.
Despite his shooting proving costly for Newcastle, who failed to match last season’s FA Cup campaign that saw the Magpies reach the quarter-final, Bruce was pleased with Carroll’s overall performance at Arsenal.
“I thought Andy did fantastically well. If he had topped it off by scoring a goal, it would have been good for him. There were a lot of pleasing things,” Bruce said, via quotes by The Shields Gazette.
In truth, however, Bruce wasted Carroll at Arsenal and the Newcastle United boss’ defensive tactics proved costly against a Mikel Arteta side that is often unable to present any forward threat.
Too often throughout the north London affair, Carroll was forced to drop deeper and deeper in search of possession or to help United defend, capped off by a first-half charge that saw the 32-year-old target man aid Emil Krafth at right-back.
Bruce and Newcastle eventually saw the best of what Carroll can bring to the table in the closing stages of the second period when he was presented with chances to seal a rare win over Arsenal, who have now beaten the Toon in 15 of their last 16 meetings.
If United are to retain Carroll against interest from West Bromwich Albion in the January transfer window, Bruce must act now and deliver a drastic change to his system by pairing the £75,000-per-week gem, who Kevin Phillips feels “can be unplayable”, with another striker.
Bruce often favours a one-striker system but he will struggle to see the best of Carroll over a full 90 minutes if he continues to focus on defensive stability over an attacking threat, and he must pair the 6 ft 4 target man with Wilson to lay claim to a better forward balance that may finally see Newcastle snap their seven-game winless streak across all competitions.
Bruce is setting the Magpies up defensively, but the fact is, they aren’t winning games in this set-up, so a change is needed.