No question it was a classic game of two halves yesterday afternoon at the Emirates. And the first half wasn't pretty as you pondered the tangible benefit of the break in Dubai, such was the pace of Arsenal’s football. Only one chance of real note was created, with Eddie Nketiah shooting tamely at the Newcastle keeper. The visitors looked more dangerous, although in fairness, this did look like two teams that were struggling for goals.
Arteta made some interesting calls in his starting eleven. Dani Ceballos in for Torreira, and Eddie Nketiah selected ahead of Alexandre Lacazette at centre-forward. Shkodran Mustafi looks like the first choice central defensive partner of David Luiz now, whilst Bukayo Saka retained his place in spite of the return to fitness of Sead Kolasinac. We wait to see how much rotation there is when the Gunners travel to Greece for the Europa League knockout game on Thursday.
Ceballos kept the ball moving, which one suspects was why he was picked. Arteta needed to find something that would lead to more productive interplay with his attacking quartet. In truth though, the biggest difference in this regard was Mesut Ozil, who was not only active, he was highly influential, finding space and using it. Most of this though, was after the interval. The Gunners notably upped the pace at which they were doing things and in the 54th minute opened the scoring.
There’s an interesting debate here. Does the effect Arteta often seems to have with his instructions at half-time make him an excellent coach? Or is that view somewhat coloured by the fact his team are often disappointing in the opening 45 minutes? Shouldn’t they be prepared and mentally right from the first kick of the game? If Arsenal continue winning matches, then we’ll accept the poor starts, but so far, it feels like a part of the reason that so many points have been dropped. The team only seem to play in spells rather than controlling matches more in both halves. Early days though.
The second half was the kind of thing we like to see, with the club’s four most expensive signings all finding the net. The 4-0 scoreline did flatter the home side, but we’ll take it. Newcastle could easily have scored twice when the game stood at 2-0. Bukayo Saka justified his selection with an excellent assist for the second goal, doing a nutmeg to beat his man on the flank. Pepe was in position to finish with ease. We had to wait until the game was almost over for goals three and four. By this time, the line-up had a more familiar feel with Torreira and Lacazette having come on for Ceballos and Nketiah. The latter is still finding his way, but at least got into position to have two efforts which were definitely convertible.
It’s difficult to imagine the club won’t try to sell Aubameyang in the summer, unless he suddenly decides to extend his stay, which looks unlikely. We’ll get an idea between now and then whether Nketiah is likely to have a future at the club, but right now, you’d say that what is most plausible is that Martinelli will replace Aubameyang positionally (especially given the relationship he has developed with Saka) with the hope that Lacazette re-finds his scoring touch. The number 9 set up Ozil for his goal after a multi-pass move which apparently featured every Arsenal player touching the ball, and at the death, managed to find the net himself to complete the rout.
On a miserable day, weather-wise, the storm had calmed by the time the fans made their way out of the stadium, and it must be hoped that things become less choppy, results-wise for Arteta’s players. They still have plenty to play for in the immediate weeks. Progress in the two cup competitions certainly looks achievable, whilst the run of fixtures in the Premier League does allow for the possibility of a winning sequence which could at least make the concluding games of the season in the league more meaningful. Don’t think that missing out on Europe completely next season is a definite plus. The Europa League really does make a difference in what the club will be able to afford to do in the summer.
The next five Premier League matches are Everton (home), West Ham (home), Brighton (away), Southampton (away) and Norwich (home). The aim really has to be to collect 15 points here and have 49 points as a platform going into the last seven fixtures (Wolves, Leicester, Man City, Spurs, Liverpool, Villa and Watford). Arteta has a big enough squad to rotate a little, but for the most part, I’d hope that momentum and wins will combat fatigue. The next two matches (Olympiacos away and Everton next Sunday) will tell us plenty about whether the remainder of the season could be as enjoyable as yesterday’s second half.
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