Arsenal 3 Newcastle United 0
This turned into the kind of Emirates Stadium evening that had become alien to Arsenal: a regulation win, obliging opponents and a decisive contribution from their talisman. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had not scored twice in a game since the FA Cup final but put that right in the second half, either side of a characteristically adept strike from Bukayo Saka. It means Arsenal can taste what, on recent rations, is the rarified air of the top half. Newcastle were ultimately overwhelmed and must wait to see the fruit of Steve Bruce’s much-trailed change in approach.
Bruce had ripped into his players following last week’s derelict showing at Sheffield United, suggesting their mentality was wrong and promising “the gloves are off now”. He duly took a scalpel to his starting XI, making eight changes and setting up with a 4-4-2 formation that was clearly designed to engender a proactivity that Newcastle have so often lacked.
Whether this was the place to do it seemed moot, particularly as they had been a touch unfortunate not to win here in the FA Cup third round using a more conservative system nine days previously, exposing Arsenal’s attacking pallor until they were undone in extra time. Yet Arsenal showed little early aptitude at exploiting any extra space that was on offer this time, while Bruce’s fury at least appeared to have bred an increased appetite to play in the opponents’ half.
One run by Aubameyang, carrying the ball from halfway to the byline before space and ideas deserted him, told the opening exchanges’ tale. But Arsenal began to discover some rhythm and Aubameyang found himself far better placed to threaten in the 15th minute. He should have scored when, after tidy approach play from Emile Smith Rowe, a shot from Saka was deflected to the left of goal by Karl Darlow’s outstretched foot. The goal was open but the home captain, still out of form at that point and off balance to boot, struck the top of the far post.
It was a let-off for Newcastle and Mikel Arteta felt they had enjoyed another when, with Alexandre Lacazette attempting to reach a through pass, the ball popped up off Jamal Lewis’s thigh and onto his hand. “Same league, different every week,” Arteta bellowed as David Coote rightly remained unmoved.
Smith Rowe’s scheming is, at least, a constant and after another strong run he cut back for Aubameyang to flash a left-footed effort narrowly over. Miguel Almirón had missed by a similarly respectable distance for Newcastle a few minutes previously but that was an outlier in what, by now, was virtually one-way traffic. Arsenal’s problem, though, was that they were struggling to create regular openings from that level of control against a side hardly designed to contain.
A clumsy attempt from Aubameyang to win a penalty, leaping into Emil Krafth in hope rather than expectation as he ran into the box, hinted at a certain frustration. Shortly before half-time he almost drew a fair reward from the Newcastle right-back, seeing a cross deflect off him and necessitate a scrambling save from Darlow. From the corner, David Luiz headed wide when well placed and Bruce could go back inside feeling happy enough.
Any such emotion dissipated five minutes after the restart. Lacazette had already drawn a smart low save from Darlow when, with Newcastle caught upfield after trying to salvage something from a poor Jonjo Shelvey corner, Aubameyang struck. For all his first-half misfortune, Aubameyang had at least been more consistently involved than during most of this season. Now, fed 10 yards inside the away half by an expertly weighted Thomas Partey pass, he had that inside-left tramline at his disposal again. While Krafth attempted to jockey him as he reached the area, no serious pressure was offered as Aubameyang moved the ball onto his left foot and fired convincingly beyond Darlow.
It was Partey, starting for the first time in six weeks after recovering from a thigh injury, who had laid on that unsuccessful charge down the flank for Aubameyang in the early minutes with an almost identical manoeuvre. Practice had made perfect and the moment was particularly satisfying for the goalscorer, whose finish was comfortably his most impressive since the opening day of the season.
Andy Carroll shot wide of Bernd Leno’s near post but Newcastle would only become more stretched from here. Saka’s finish, swept first time from 12 yards, came after more intelligent work by Smith Rowe and a precise centre. It was a clinical combination from Arsenal’s two academy darlings, who have done so much between them to lift the clouds that hovered a mere month ago.
Aubameyang had the final say when Cédric Soares kept the ball in play by a whisker, a state of affairs confirmed by VAR, and laid on a tap-in. Newcastle, miserable by now, were little better than spectators. – Guardian