Saturday’s victory against Newcastle meant we registered back to back away victories for the first time since the 2016/17 season. Two wins from three away games for Unai Emery is a significant improvement on last season’s abysmal performance away from the Emirates. Even though we have an excellent record at St James’ Park, earning three points there has never been easy. I have not had the privilege of attending the home of the Magpies, but I still feel like I know the place. It is one of the unique stadiums where the atmosphere seeps through the tv into you’re home or the pub.
Despite being the smallest man on the pitch, Lucas Sebastián Torreira Di Pascua managed to have the biggest influence on the game. His introduction at half time galvanised a stagnant Arsenal team. For the second week in a row, his second half contributions played a vital role in securing the three points. He has to start against Everton on Sunday.
Unai Emery selected the same staring 11 for the first time with the spunky Matteo Guendouzi becoming the first teenager to start five games in a row since Johann Djourou. I was surprised to see Torreira and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the bench. I suspect Emery wants to choke teams with possession and must feel a midfield axis of Granit Xhaka and Guendouzi provides us with a better chance of retaining the ball for long periods.
The story of the first half was much like Arsenal of seasons gone by. Plenty of the ball, but no cutting edge. Newcastle managed to cut off the space in their defensive third and carried a threat from set pieces.
Our first real moment of quality came on 32’ when Aaron Ramsey was slipped through by a nice touch on the edge of the box by from Alexandre Lacazette. The Welshman lost his balance and failed to square to the looming Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a tap in. I am a big fan of Ramsey, but whilst demonstrating plenty of industry, he hasn’t managed to find his cutting edge this season. If he is going to play in one of the attacking midfield positions he needs to rediscover his guile in the final third.
Half time: Newcastle 0-0 Arsenal
Torreira replaced Guendouzi at half time and had an immediate impact. His decisive pass forward into Aubameyang created dangerous space for the striker who could only be stopped by a foul. Xhaka then stepped up to glide the free kick into the top corner.
This goal will do wonders for Xhaka’s confidence, as will the protection of Torreira by his side.
Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal
The injection of fluidity triggered by Torreira and confidence from the goal ignited our creativity and Newcastle struggled to contain us as they did in the first half.
It’s always important to score when you are on top and we managed to get the decisive second on 57’ when Mesut Ozil stroked home from closed range after a Lacazette shot was blocked. As with Xhaka, hopefully this goal will enrich Ozil’s confidence. With a string of kinder fixtures approaching, let’s hope both lefties can kindle their seasons.
Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal
The icing on top of the cake would have been a clean sheet. The defence was far from imposing, but their collective performance was a significant improvement on recent weeks. For most of the game we managed to limit Newcastle to threats from set pieces, however concentration appeared to waiver in the final stages.
Joselu forced Cech into a save with a header on 88’ and then on 91’ Ciaran Clark managed to pull one back from a similar spot when he headed Fernandez’s cross home.
Full time: Newcastle 1-2 Arsenal
Man of the match: Lucas Torreira
I know its still early days, but this kid appears to be made of the right stuff. He has great acceleration, good aggression in the tackle and eye for a quick pass forward. N’golo Konte better watch out as someone is coming for his crown.
Alexandre Lacazette put in another solid performance and was unlucky not to get a goal. He’s up for the fight this season and appears to have the bit between his teeth.
As with many Arsenal fans, I thought Sokratis was excellent. The Greek international is getting better with every game and appears to be adapting to the intensity of the premiership.
P.S. Every football fan has a soft spot for one or two other teams, and Newcastle have always been one of mine. Let’s hope Rafa Benitez can find the magic to give the passionate Geordie crowd the results they deserve.