Three things we learned: Arsenal v. Newcastle
LONDON -- Arsenal beat Newcastle United 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium and it is time to have a look at three things we learned from Mikel Arteta’s second home win as Gunners boss.
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe struck in quick succession in the second half to surge past a spirited Newcastle side who hit the post and looked a threat on the break throughout but Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette finished things off in style late on.
Here are three things we learned from north London.
STRETCHED ARSENAL FINALLY THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND
Arteta has brought in a new pragmatism to Arsenal but it seems like they’ve gone too far to the defensive side of the spectrum. They started with pretty much six attacking players on the pitch if you count Bukayo Saka who is operating out of position at left back but had no real attacking spark in the first 45 minutes.
Arsenal were slow, predictable and languid in possession and with Arteta wanting them to press high up the pitch the gap between midfield and attack was just too big. Yes, they were playing against a Newcastle side who put 10 men behind the ball whenever they could but there was a severe lack of intensity. Newcastle threatened with counters as the pace of Almiron and Saint-Maximin caused problems but Arsenal were playing it safe with plenty of sideways passes and didn’t take enough risks. Then it all changed.
Whatever Arteta said at half time worked a treat as Arsenal were a totally different team in the second half and their increased intensity caught Newcastle cold. In the space of a few minutes Saka tricked his way past several tackles, Pepe scored one and set up and another, Aubameyang nodded home and Nketiah hit the bar and should have had another. It will take time for Arteta to turn this Arsenal side into what he wants them to be but he has improved them defensively. They have conceded just four goals in their last six Premier League games and Arteta is making Arsenal hard to beat, while knowing they have the attacking weapons to fire them to victories. They are seven points off the top four and six off fifth (which now looks likely to secure Champions League qualification given Man City’s European ban) and Arsenal have lost just once in eight PL games under Arteta. They are becoming tougher to beat and Arteta’s message is getting through to the players, at least for a 20-30 minutes at a time.
CEBALLOS CAN BE ARSENAL’S TEMPO SETTER
Dani Ceballos doesn’t possess the pace to have a huge impact in the final third but in a deep-lying role he is pretty effective. The Spanish midfielder is finally fit and Arteta lined him up in a defensive midfield role alongside Granit Xhaka. Ceballos demanded the ball at every opportunity and has the quality to see passes and find the likes of Ozil with ease. Having the right partner alongside him in the engine room will be key to seeing if he can flourish is a No. 6 role with Lucas Torreia and Mateo Guendouzi more defensive-minded. Granit Xhaka was alongside him and he isn’t exactly the true destroyer who would allow Ceballos to pick up the second balls and get attacks going. If you look at Man City’s midfield, Ceballos can be Arsenal’s Ilkay Gundogan. The difference is, Gundogan has Fernandinho alongside him breaking up the play. Arteta has clearly taken inspiration from his last three seasons as an assistant coach at Man City as his decision to push Ceballos a little deeper looks like it will work. Ceballos has to be playing regularly if he’s going to play for Spain at EURO 2020 and that dangling carrot will also benefit Arsenal as he tries to secure a permanent move from Real Madrid as his loan spell is over in January. Ceballos is finally fit and it seems like he has finally found his spot in the Arsenal lineup as he received a standing ovation when he came off with 10 minutes to go and got a big huge from Arteta.
ALMIRON, SAINT-MAXIMIN A JOY TO WATCH
On paper, Newcastle under Steve Bruce should not be exciting to watch and for vast swathes of the game they aren’t. That said, whenever Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin pick up the ball the excitement is palpable and those two alone make it worthwhile watching this Newcastle side. Time and time again they broke free, surged upfield and took on four Arsenal defenders on their own only to look up and not have another teammate within 25 yards of the goal. Joelinton just can’t keep up with their speedy attacks and if Newcastle had a forward who could keep up with them, he’d get four or five big chances per game. Saint-Maximin hit the post late on and Newcastle were unlucky to not be ahead after a fast start and several superb counter attacks led by the aforementioned duo.