ANR enjoyed (an extended) winter break. But how much had it given to the Arsenal team. How much had they learnt new tactics and formations?
If the first half was anything to go by – too many dates and sun-cream?
But Arsenal are a better second half team under Arteta – as this 4-0 win illustrates.
How would the three new Newcastle signings, including ex-Spurs players Rose and Bentaleb fit in?
Newcastle set up with a back five – and a bank of four in midfield. They had some confidence about them, not losing in eight matches.
Danny Ceballos came in in for Torriera; Nketiah in for Lacazette. Aubameyang in for Martinelli. Ozil and Ceballos represented a potentially potent creative threat.
In the first fifteen, Xhaka was booked for pull-back on Lazaro prior to tackling dangerously on the edge of the area – bringing back uncomfortable memories of the latter Emery months.
Longstaff tried a shot from a corner routine, partially and dangerously deflected by Ceballos. Leno twisted back in the opposite direction to save well.
Saint Maximin’s physicality reminds of Adama Traore – particularly when he gets some momentum – and he dribbled in past Bellerin and passed to Joelinton who side-footed wide.
Lazaro, Saint Maximin and Joelinton were proving dangerous on the counter. Arsenal tried hard to find their rhythm – but weren’t succeeding. Perhaps the winter break wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Arsenal began to get a foothold and Ceballos passed to Saka who bent one over. He was Arsenal’s most dangerous player.
Almiron sliced through the Arsenal defence at pace – but was held up in the area.
It was a game for the likes of Pepe, with his pace and quick feet able to break lines – but he opted for safe options instead of taking men on. And not coming in on the other side when Saka had it.
But towards the last third of the first half, Arsenal had some chances largely created by Ozil. He found Aubameyang who took the outside route and shot – saved by Dubravka. And then Nketiah who shot first time – but straight at Dubravka. And Pepe had a couple of shots on goal.
After half-time, Arsenal upped the pace. Ceballos found Aubameyang with a lofted pass, but he hooked it wide.
Pepe cut the ball back neatly in the Newcastle area, but Nketiah hit the bar – he got under it. Pepe crossed a lofted ball from the right. Clarke passed it on for Lazaro but Aubameyang got goal-side and headed strongly into the far corner.
Soon after Saka nutmegged Lazaro on the left and passed to Pepe who, running into the centre, side-footed it home.
Nketiah dribbled in the area and had a chance to shoot with his right but tried to get it on to his left – and the chance was gone.
Almiron found Saint Maximin who found Clarke. But he fired wide from a central six-yard box position.
After an injury break and two substitutions, Saint Maximin cut in and hit the post – which enlivened the toons. It would have made it a different game at 2-1.
Saka showed his dribbling skills beating two players but stumbling into Clarke and then ran on to a pass covering half the pitch and sending in a low cross which just eluded Lacazette.
Ozil drove forward and found Pepe who passed to Lacazette who swivelled it across the six-yard box for the on-running German to dink home – quite luckily – his first goal in ten months.
Now it was the turn of substitute Willock who drove forward finding Pepe, who passed inside to Lacazette. A golden opportunity to break his nine-game duck. Would he take it? No, yes, perhaps – hitting into his standing foot. The ball took an inexorably pre-destined loop into the top corner with Dubravka looking on as if he’d seen a UFO.
Man of the match Bukayo Saka said the difference between the first and second half was the increased energy. “Newcastle defended deep and we struggled to break them down. In the second half they couldn’t handle our energy.”
Aubameyang said at half-time the boss told us to keep going. In the second half we had more energy. I stayed in the middle more – as a second striker – and kept the position and got closer.
He added that the environment is better – and “that we have a clear idea of the way of playing and try to maintain the level.”
Steve Bruce said: “The performance in the second half was bad, disappointing. The goals we gave away were too easy. For an hour we were good, but we switched off, went sloppy and gave away goals.
“I was delighted with the first half. We had good opportunities. In the second half we knew they’d come after us, but we didn’t start. You expect defenders to defend floating crosses. We were never anywhere near in second half.”
Mikel Arteta said the result was very significant. “We talked about turning draws into wins and home form is vital if we are to do anything. They play with a low block and slow the play down. We managed better after 25 minutes.
“We had a talk at half-time how we could use spaces and how we could attack using overloads We were poor in the first 25 and didn’t control things.”
On Saka, Arteta said: “He takes risks in final third – he has courage.”
On Lacazette’s goal: “The reaction of players and staff towards him show they like him. He works hard for others.”
And he concluded: “It is up to us how consistent we are.”
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerín, Mustafi, David Luiz, Saka, (Booked at 82), Ceballos (Substituted for Torreiraat 82), Xhaka (Booked at 9) Pépé, Özil (Substituted for Willock at 90+1), Aubameyang, Nketiah (Substituted for Lacazette at 85)
Newcastle: Dubravka, Lazaro (Substituted for Hayden at 74),Fernández (Substituted for Ritchie at 75),Lascelles, Clark (Substituted for Schär at 83), Rose, Almirón, S Longstaff, Bentaleb, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton