Arsenal were able to finally get back to winning ways on Saturday as they battled to a 1-0 win over Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium. The victory was the host’s first in three, and it has extended Newcastle’s winless run, which has seen them fail to take three points from a game in their last five.
The match itself was one that went by with few outstanding chances, with Arsenal struggling to break their opponents down, while Newcastle were more than happy to sit deep and soak up the pressure, with the game falling into the classic attack vs defence style.
Arsenal dominated the first-half and went ahead through a moment of magic from Mesut Ozil as he volleyed home. The hosts threatened to extend their lead, but they could not find the right final ball. The second-half saw the Magpies have chances, with both Jacob Murphy and Ayoze Perez twice missing. The introduction of Matt Ritchie threatened to force Newcastle into life as he added something on the wing, but these attempts were ultimately a rare chance to get forward.
Newcastle have now failed to pick up a point in four games, and they are in 17th, out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone. Arsenal moved up into fourth following the game, but if Tottenham could pick up three points against Manchester City then they would rise above their London rivals.
From the game, what five things did we learn?
Mesut Ozil is a superb player
The German may be one of the most maligned players in world football, but when he is on form, he is a joy to watch. His range of passing, touches, vision and decision making give Arsenal a completely different edge as he can open the opposition’s defence up with ease.
Against Newcastle, he was once again at his very best. With Arsenal seeing the majority of the ball it meant that the German was given a large share of the possession, and he kept things ticking over in midfield. It was a far cry from the player that some sections of the Arsenal support have come to criticise massively in recent months.
While his general play was superb, his goal was a thing of beauty. Alexis Sanchez’s effort was deflected and it looped into the air, with Newcastle’s players probably thinking the danger was gone. However, the German struck the ball with the crispest of volleys as his strike flew into the back of the net. It was a moment of pure magic from Ozil, and it was a timely reminder of just how good the former-Real Madrid man is. The fact that Ozil has been involved in six goals (two goals and four assists) in his last five Premier League games shows that he is hitting form at the right time.
Newcastle remain compact, but poor offensively in the first-half
The half-time scoreline of 1-0 was an entirely respectable one as far the the Magpies were concerned, with the visitors well and truly in the game despite seeing very little of the ball in the opening 45 minutes.
Arsenal enjoyed 74% possession along with 12 shots in the first-half. Newcastle, on the other hand, saw 26% of the ball and had just two shots. While the statistically inclined will say that Newcastle had done well to stay within a goal after seeing just a quarter of the ball, it still spells trouble for the Magpies. Rafael Benitez, of course, set them up to be defensively sound, and they were for the most part with their organised and well-drilled backline battling Arsenal valiantly.
However, legs start to tire and minds begin to wander as the minutes tick by, and it becomes incredibly difficult to maintain that rigid defensive-shape. It was clear that they needed their offensive-line to take some of the pressure off their defenders, but this support was not forthcoming in the first-half.
Benitez’s team talk will have been largely predicated on trying to get on the ball more and allow the defenders time to rest and push up the field. Of course, playing against Arsenal at the Emirates rarely facilitates seeing much of the ball, but it just seemed as though the visitors were slightly too concerned with defending, rather than trying to play much football. The second-half did see an improvement for the Magpies in attack, but they must find a way create more, otherwise, they may be back in the Championship next season.
Matt Ritchie must play for Newcastle
Rafael Benitez needed to make brave decisions for the game against Arsenal, with their game plan hugely important to how much defending Newcastle would have to do. Christian Atsu started on the wing ahead of Matt Ritchie and he struggled to make much of an impact on the game as Arsenal dominated for the entirety of the first-half.
Benitez decided to throw on Ritchie in the second-half as he looked to freshen things up and provide a different outlet out-wide, and that is exactly what Ritchie did. He was a menace on the wing as he provided an incredibly hardworking presence. He managed to create a number of chances for his teammates, while his ability to see a pass and pick out a pinpoint cross for the club across the season has given them a way forward.
Atsu is undoubtedly a fine player, with the speedster giving Newcastle a good outlet on the wing. However, when he does not see the ball often, his influence on the game is hugely decreased. Ritchie, on the other hand, is very good going forward, while he is also hardworking at the back, which makes him a multi-faceted winger that does not shirk away from duties at either end of the pitch.
Arsenal return to winning ways
It has been a long time coming, but Arsenal have finally returned to winning ways. A 3-1 loss to Manchester United was followed by a 1-1 draw with Southampton, and a 0-0 draw with West Ham which threatened to almost entirely derail Arsenal’s campaign with wins tough to come by recently.
However, their slim win over Newcastle is exactly the sort of game that they needed, with a more gritty performance that showcased that they do not need to be at their very best to win, as Arsenal have too often been all or nothing. While they did dominate the ball and created the majority of the chances, they were not at their clinical best, and they could have been punished, but they were able to hold on for the win.
With Burnley drawing their game and Tottenham playing in the later kick-off, Arsenal were able to climb up to fourth in the table, taking a Champions League spot back. While it is only one win and they may yet fall out of the top four, it is a start for Arsenal at least.
Newcastle do not show enough to suggest they will be safe
From everything that happened in the game, Newcastle did not show enough to suggest they will avoid relegation. Of course, there are a lot of games to go, and so much time to improve, but if this match was anything to go by, then it will be a very long season for Newcastle.
Ritchie did add something on the wing, with his direct style a big improvement which helped the visitors to record a total of 10 shots in the game. However, just having shots, a fifth of which were on target, is not enough.
Rafael Benitez has a busy month ahead, and he will hope that he is given some funds in January, otherwise, it is difficult to see how Newcastle will escape the trapdoor this season.
Arsenal: Cech 6 – Bellerin 6, Koscielny 6, Monreal 6, Maitland-Niles 6 – Xhaka 6, Wilshere 7 – Iwobi 6 (Welbeck 6), Ozil 8, Sanchez 6 (Coquelin 5) – Lacazette 6 (Giroud 6).
Unused subs: Ospina, Chambers, Kolasinac, Elneny.
Newcastle: Elliot 6 – Yedlin 5, Lascelles 5, Lejeune 5, Manquillo 5 – Hayden 6, Merino 5 (Diame 5) – Atsu 5 (Ritchie 6.5), Perez 5, Murphy 5 (Gayle) 5 – Joselu 5.
Unused subs: Darlow, Clark, Dummett, Aarons.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
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