With only four/five of our best Arsenal-11 starting the match, it was not going to be easy to get all three points. Laca, Bels, Holding, Pepe, Ozil, Tierney and Luiz did not make our starting eleven (all with good reason), and it showed. The team looked rusty and lacked an attacking edge but it worked hard and had most of the initiative at the Barcodes’ home ground, and that goes a long way. 1-0 to the Arsenal, three points and a clean sheet; let’s not look this gift-horse too deep in the mouth!
Eight observations from Newcastle v Arsenal:
- Unlike the Chavs v MU in the later game, Arsenal did not play at a high tempo and try to overpower the opponent in their own half from the start. We sat back, protected the back four and tried to pass our way to the Newcastle box. We lacked cohesion and the tempo was too low to hurt NU, but we also managed to take the initiative away from an equally rusty and cohesion-lacking opponent. The crowd was quiet and the whole game was a bit of damp squib and this suited our starting 11 very well.
- We played both Xhaka and Guendouzi in the DM pivot and it sort of worked, at least from a defensive point of view. Willock played in the hole and did his best to connect the often quite deep sitting ‘back-six’ with the three attackers, Mkhi, Auba and Nelson. However, the balance in midfield was not great and against stronger opponents we will not get away with this. This is btw no reflection on the individual performances by Xhaka, Guendouzi or Willock: all put in a good shift and had plenty quality moments. Unfortunately, Xhaka and Guendouzi did not support Willock enough as neither of them did a proper box to box job on the day, and seem to want to play a similar role in the team. With Torreira and Ozil hopefully available soon Emery will have more/better weapons at his disposal to the get midfield balance right.
- Willock did get a lot of support from Mkhi and I liked both their involvements in the game. Unfortunately, the Armenian is badly lacking in form and his final ball was often overhit and played with too much haste. But the form will come again and at least Mkhi is putting in a decent shift.
- There were only two big highlights in the whole game and that was Ainsley’s great cross after a well-anticipated interception on the right flank at the half way line AND Auba’s fine ‘Bergkampesque’ first touch and steely finish to score the winner. AMN’s well-measured cross had pace but this was taking out of it by the bounce it had before it reached Auba; this gave our official MotM the chance to control the ball first and then slot it home. It was a rare moment of beauty and Auba showed us why he is so important for us with that calm moment of quality.
- Tierney and Bellerin may well become our first team full backs once they become fully fit, but both AMN and Nacho really put in a shift and both were contenders for BK’s MotM. Both worked hard and tried to add value to all areas: defence, midfield and attack. But My MotM ‘award’ also goes to Auba. He was by no means without fault and being the lone CF does not really suit him, I think, but he worked hard for the team and took his chance when it came – and that is why we travelled home with three precious points in the bag.
- Of course this would not have happened without our defence keeping a clean sheet. It is fair to say the Magpies did not give them a lot too worry about, but the quartet of AMN, Sok, Chambers and Nacho, and GK Leno, worked together well and dealt adequately with the few set-pieces that were thrown at them. I wonder whether we will play an easier away game this season, though, so I will not be going overboard as yet, but the Sok-Chambers combo wasn’t too shabby today.
- Nelson worked hard and there were a few moments of quality, so he should be content with his performance. More will be needed from him but, as always, we need to give our young players time and keep our expectations quite low. The managers will be able to analyse Nelson’s performance with him, and I am sure Fab Freddie will help him to progress further this season. What I like(d) about Martinelli is his confidence and desire to be involved and get stuck in from the moment he crosses the longest white line. I don’t have that feeling (especially regarding confidence) with Nelson as yet, but it will be a joy to watch both of them develop further this season.
- It was a bit of a worry that the subs – Ceballos, Pepe and Martinelli – did not make much difference in the game. We had just scored a precious goal of course and the team were trying to find a balance between protecting the win and getting another goal (which we usually really, really need), but we played even more chaotically after all three were on the pitch. This is no reflection on the individual performances as all had good moments, but as a team we were really not looking organised and purposeful in the latter part of the second half. It is early season of course and it did not harm us this time round, but with games against Burnley, Pool and Spuds coming up, we must get more organised and attuned to each other.