*Arsenal Captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang heading home the opener in-between two Newcastle defenders
By Ian Ladyman
This was half a performance by Arsenal and in the end it was comfortably enough. Poor in the first half, Mikel Arteta’s team could have been behind had Newcastle managed to solve their goal scoring problem during the January transfer window. But they didn’t so they weren’t.
Beyond that, Arsenal were much improved. Newcastle, for all their promise with the ball at times, gave Arsenal’s creative players too much space and eventually were made to pay for that basic, unforgivable sin. A two-goal margin would have been right. As it was, two more at the death moved Arsenal in to the top half of the league and their goal difference in to the positive. At the Emirates these days, these things matter.
The four goals – all in the second half – were scored by £220m worth of talent. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette were the players involved. But what will give coach Arteta most heart will have been the ability to showcase some of Arsenal’s developing players. Young Eddie Nketiah – aged 20 and from Lewisham – started up front and struck the crossbar. Bukayo Saka – aged 18 and from Ealing – was at left-back and set up a lovely second goal for Pepe with a nutmeg on Newcastle’s Valentino Lazaro straight from the playground.
If Arsenal are to make significant strides forwards then academy talent such as this will have to play a part. Here the signs were good. Newcastle, meanwhile, are 13th in the league table and seven points from danger. They will not feel they can relax. They have won only once in the league this year and their struggles in front of goal are clear. Before travelling to Manchester City in the middle of April, they face Crystal Palace, Burnley, Southampton, Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Bournemouth and West Ham. In all likelihood, those results will define their direction.
At times here the signs were okay. Bruce was creative in January, bringing in players such as Lazaro on loan from Inter and Danny Rose from Tottenham. Nabil Bentaleb, once of Tottenham, looks a decent addition, too, but still they have not found a goalscorer and that issue was live again during the opening half hour. Quite simply, Newcastle were more eager early on. Arteta has asked for industry as a pre-requisite from his players and at times there wasn’t enough of it. It wasn’t that the Arsenal players were not running or covering or supporting. There was just not enough ‘snap’.
With Lazaro and Rose as wing-backs, Newcastle sought to overload in wide positions early on and they were progressive. Lazaro may have shot first time when found by Joelinton and then Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno saved well after Sean Longstaff’s volley had been deflected. Shortly after, Joelinton missed a big chance – we have seen this before – when the dangerous Allan Saint-Maximin found him at the near post.
Arsenal were flat and a little lucky to be on terms, but improvement did come and when it did they started to look dangerous too. Young Saka is a talent and likes to get forward. He had a shot saved by Martin Dubravka as did Aubameyang, both found in space by Ozil who was beginning to enjoy freedom in front of Newcastle’s back five. At that stage, the visitors needed to get a grip of the German, but they didn’t.
Before half-time Dubravka flapped at a corner and Joelinton headed off the line from Shkodran Mustafi. The flow of the game had definitely shifted and whatever Arteta said at the break only accentuated this. In part, this is where good coaches earn their money. Ozil increasingly had a taste for it. His pass to Pepe in the 50th minute played his team-mate to the byline and when the Ivorian pulled the ball back to Nketiah he smashed it against the bar when really, he should have scored.
It felt like a big moment but soon it was forgotten. Pepe picked the ball up on the right, crossed deep to Aubameyang and when he jumped between Lazaro and Federico Fernandez, he was able to head it back across goal and into the corner. It was a goal Arsenal’s improvement deserved. But what really killed Newcastle was the second one three minutes later.
This time, there was no mistaking the quality. Young Saka poked the ball through Lazaro’s legs on the far side and looked up to find Pepe. The left-foot finish was delivered first time from 12 yards and Dubravka had no chance. How different everything suddenly felt. There was life in the Emirates and not much left in Newcastle. A goal back would have helped Bruce’s team. It could have arrived in the 63rd minute when David Luiz’s toe diverted a close range shot from Ciaran Clark round the post. Then, ten minutes or so later, Saint-Maximin struck the frame of the goal.
Arteta used his substitutions well and they brought his team late energy. As Newcastle tread water, Ozil induced a howler from Dubravka after a move rumoured to involve 35 passes before Lacazette shanked one in to the corner five minutes in to added time. Newcastle players ended the day on their knees and haunches while Arsenal cavorted by the corner flag. One team was not that bad while the other was not that consistently good. Both, in differing ways, will hope to get better.