After a minor stumble against Crystal Palace last week, Arsenal recovered, rebounded, and impressed in their 3-0 win over Newcastle. Three second half goals, including a much-needed brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, gave Arsenal all three points, their fifth straight clean sheet, and some confidence as they head toward another tough stretch in their schedule.
Things started off interestingly with the announcement of Arsenal’s lineup. It was another 4-2-3-1 formation from the Gunners, which is proving to now be their standard formation, but the inclusion of Cedric and Luiz seemed just as noteworthy — albeit in a different fashion — as the return of Tierney and Partey.
Arteta stated that the inclusion of Cedric was simply a means of rotating out Bellerin and offering him some rest, but Cedric’s performance may have earned him another match. Reasons for Luiz remaining in the match instead of Gabriel are a little less clear. He performed well in Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Newcastle, was alright against Crystal Palace, but many will have thought Gabriel would reclaim his spot. If someone had to hypothesize at what Arteta was thinking it would probably be that Luiz offers a larger range of passing to switch the point of attack quickly and knock the ball over any congested pressing areas to spring the ball from back to front quickly — two critical components in Arsenal’s attack.
Arsenal’s first half was filled with half-positives and some dangerous moments, but for a team that dominates over 65% of the ball to only manage one shot on goal, there was plenty to worry about. Similar to many of Arsenal’s matches this season, they have a tendency to dawdle on the ball and reduce the tempo of their ball movement in the face of a low block. They retain the ball nicely, they flirt with moments of danger, but they lack that killer instinct.
This wasn’t helped by Aubameyang who had three chances to score but fluffed all three, including an open goalmouth shot that he somehow managed to put off the woodwork and have ricochet away from about 2 yards out. It wasn’t as easy of a ball to get on the end of as one may believe, and he managed to contort himself nicely to do it, but once he got himself on the end of it, you would bet on him to score from that close ninety-five out of one hundred times. Seemed like he just couldn’t buy a goal.
In the second half, Arsenal came out, and as they have shown in the past, were a different team. They were filled with intent, looking to try things, and wanting to put things away early. Less than two minutes into the second half, Lacazette put a hard, low strike on frame that Debravka somehow managed to keep out.
Arsenal would break through just 4 minutes later in the 50th minutes when Partey sprang the Arsenal counter attack to life with a splendid ball to Aubameyang in all kinds of space. From there it was like watching the Auba of five months ago. He drove from just inside Newcastle’s half, was shown onto his left foot, and buried it past the keeper. A weight lifted off Aubameyang, off the chest of Arsenal fans, and off the game itself.
From there, Newcastle were forced to get out of the low block just a little bit, look to press more and try to force errors to get back into the match, but were punished by Arsenal’s young stars — Emile Smith Rowe and Saka.
Many Newcastle fans will be irate as the goal looked far too easy on Arsenal who were are allowed to progress the ball down the left side with little resistance and into Newcastle’s defensive third. With the ball at his feet, Smith Rowe drove at the isolated defender, puts him on skates, and supplied a low cross on a silver platter for a completely unmarked Saka to tuck home. It’s a fantastic bit of play from Arsenal, but not many goals come quite that uncontested in this league.
Finally, to cap it all off, Captain Aubameyang grabbed himself a brace with a tap in, but it’s Cedric Soares who walks a tightrope on the endline to keep the ball in and cut it back for Aubameyang. Fortunately, Soares wasn’t actually walking a tightrope because there was a bit of a wobble that saw the ball probably clear the endline and go out of bounds but Arsenal won’t care one bit as they capture all three points.
It was a really good second half with a few great takeaways to consider as Arsenal head into a tough stretch in the Premier League.
Partey and ESR — a fantastic partnership in their own way
Everyone, myself included, is trying to figure out who is the best partner for Thomas Partey in the midfield. Will it be Xhaka, Ceballos, Elneny? Xhaka looked good yesterday, however, someone else stood out in my mind as a perfect partner — Emile Smith Rowe.
In a very different capacity than the partnership being discussed above, Partey’s quick, positive, and progressive play from deep is a really great balance to Smith Rowe’s tidy, technical, agile, play in between the lines. Yesterday, it offered Arsenal the ability to have Partey quickly launching Arsenal’s counter attacks forward, moving the ball from back to front with few touches and done accurately.
‘Economical’ may be the way to summarize why these two are so good. While Partey offers more range compared to the tight, compact play of Smith Rowe, both have a great understanding of the importance of doing it quickly.
How many times this year have Arsenal fans commented on the extraneous touches taken by Arsenal’s midfield, and backline for the matter, in their efforts to move the ball into dangerous areas?
In the last six matches we have seen what Emile Smith Rowe can do on the ball, and how well he does when he moves it along using only one or two touches. It was glaringly obvious against Newcastle last time out when he was brought on for Willian who takes two or three extra touches in similar spaces. Partey showed a keen ability to receive the pass, take a positive touch, pick his head up and pick out a pass accurately and quickly.
ESR had 87% pass accuracy, 5 created chances, an assist, and attempted 55 passes with 60 touches. Partey had 94% pass accuracy, 3 created chances, 1 assist, and had 59 passes attempted with 69 touches.
It’s early days and plenty of room to grow, but bringing that quick play back to the midfield and having one player than can distribute from deep, and one that can offer us great passing and movement in tight spaces, is a partnership I certainly want to see more of. Economical — thats the name of the game.
Aubameyang scores two
Regardless of the degree in which you have been frustrated by Aubameyang’s performances, or how bad you think Martinelli should be given those minutes, seeing Aubameyang score two in the same match is a breath of fresh air.
Only scores against small clubs? Doesn’t show up in big games? Only scores goals while the rest of his game is poor?
Hurl whatever insults you want at him, he carried Arsenal through the last two seasons with his goal scoring from the left wing, and seeing him regain even half that form would be a major addition to Arsenal’s attack this season.
At the start of January, I tweeted that I would still be willing to bet Aubameyang ends the season as Arsenal’s top goal scorer, in the league or all competitions, and manages to do it by a good margin. Adding two against Newcastle is a good start and hopefully springs him back toward where we have come to expect him to be.
He now sits 1 goals behind Lacazette in all competitions (8) and two behind Lacazette in the league (5). Get him scoring, Arsenal will need it as they look to finish strong.
Finishing strong is great, but why the slow start?
Arsenal have fallen into this really unfortunate habit of starting matches slow. Whether it’s their way of feeling the opposition out, trying to probe their way through, the fact that they are up against fresh opposition, or whether it’s a half-time hiding they get from Arteta that needs to be sent earlier, it’s an unfortunate trait.
How many matches have you seen teams like Liverpool and Manchester City come out of the tunnel, score two or three goals, and coast their way through the second half? Okay, I get it, we aren’t at the level of those clubs.True, and I should adjust myself, but so should Arsenal.
They had Newcastle up against the ropes for nearly 45 minutes in the first half. There was one moment in which Newcastle broke nicely on the counter attack, but otherwise it was within Arsenal’s control. Ending the half with 7 shots and only one on goal? Not good enough.
The second half? Fantastic. But you can’t help but feel that there won’t be games in which Arsenal flounder in the first half and can’t put things together in the second half. Or, god forbid, it’s the other team that comes out swinging in the second half and Arsenal are put on the back foot having missed their opportunity to seize control.
If this is a clear tactic from the side, please, someone let me know because it’s a frustrating one!
The clean sheet express keeps chugging
All aboard, the Clean Sheet Express. Your conductor Rob Holding is here to guide you safely to your destination.
Wow! Arsenal collect their fifth consecutive clean sheet and you cannot overstate the value in having such a sturdy backline.
I know the play of Arsenal’s defense has been a takeaway in most of my recent match blogs… and it’s going to continue to be.
Arteta came into the job when Arsenal’s defense was drowning in goals. Since then, you cannot fault the work he has done to shore up the leaks. Arsenal have conceded only 19 goals this season in 19 matches which gives them the fourth best record in the league with one of those teams above them being Aston Villa who has a whopping four games in hand.
Yes, Arsenal’s attack has been a major problem and in helping the attack there has been some real growing pains, but Arteta and Arsenal seem to be growing in a slow, steady, and sustainable fashion that is seeing their attack get a little stronger with each match while their defense continues to get the job done.
Can’t lose games if you don’t concede right? Bravo, Rob Holding, Bernd Leno, Kieran Tierney and everyone else who has come in and out of that backline during this period. Keep it going!
Arsenal’s next five Premier League matches get quite a bit tougher. I gave a lot of praise for the Arsenal backline, and they deserve it, but they will definitely be tested in the next seven.
- Manchester United
- Aston Villa
- Manchester City
Plus, Arsenal will have two legs against a tough Benfica side in the Europa League knockouts which certainly stands as Arsenal’s top priority. Those are seven tough league matches, and Arsenal will need to find a way to get points.
In the first round of these seven fixtures, out of twenty-one possible points, Arsenal managed just five with a win against Manchester United and two draws against Leeds, who they should have probably lost to, and Southampton. Everyone will be hoping for better this time around.
Arsenal somehow sit 10 points off the top of the table and seven off the top four. It still feels like a tough ask, but if they managed to get ten or more points from their next seven, maybe, just maybe they will be in a good position for a splendid run in.
Hope you enjoyed the win! FA Cup scheduled for this weekend which could see Arsenal play Southampton in the FA Cup and then Southampton in the Premier League. Should be good!