Siao Mates Feb 17

Arsenal 4 Newcastle 0 (incl. match highlights) – Gunners get their groove back, finally


 

Mikel Arteta had to wait more than a month to record only his second win in the English Premier League (EPL) as head coach of Arsenal, with his previous victory coming against Manchester United all the way back at the start of the year.

 

The convincing manner of Arsenal’s 4-0 triumph over Newcastle United on Monday morning (SGT), however, suggests the Spaniard won’t have to wait as long again for his next three points in the league.

 

Granted, the cynics might argue that it was only Newcastle, a club so dysfunctional that they actually thought signing left-back Danny Rose on a six-month loan deal was a good idea.

 

But I’d counter that the Gunners have been in as much disarray as the Magpies this campaign, thanks largely to the disastrous reign of ex-head coach Unai Emery – both teams, after all, entered this morning’s match at the Emirates Stadium level on 31 points (from 25 games). And Newcastle had already taken points off the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United this season.

 

Pre-match

So, it was surprising to see Arteta choose a largely experimental line-up against Newcastle. The biggest surprise was up top, with youngster Eddie Nketiah being tasked to lead the line ahead of the misfiring Alexandre Lacazette, as well as the Ronaldo-Messi-Henry hybrid that is Gabriel Martinelli.

 

In addition, Dani Ceballos – sporting a new and sleek man bun – came into the squad in place of the in-form Lucas Torreira. Meanwhile, the enigmatic Nicolas Pepe was handed a start on the right-wing, presumably because Arteta wanted to show his love for the much-maligned Ivorian by giving him a (Danny) Rose as a belated Valentine’s Day present.

 

And that move, as it turned out, proved to be a masterstroke by Arteta.

 

First-half

14 mins: Leno saves from Ceballos

Ceballos almost marks his return to the starting line-up with an own goal. Arsenal fail to clear a Newcastle corner, the ball falls to Sean Longstaff at the edge of the box, and he strikes it hard at goal. To his credit, Ceballos bravely puts his head in the way of the shot, but only manages to change the flight of the ball, which wrongfoots Bernd Leno. The German stopper, however, recovers just in time to palm the shot away, much to the relief of Arsenal fans worldwide. Because the banter that us Arsenal fans would have had to endure, had we gone behind to an own goal by Ceballos’ man bun, would have been unbearable.

 

16 mins: Joelinton fires wide

Another huge let-off for Arsenal, as the £40 million (S$72m) lump of averageness known as Joelinton fires wide from close range after connecting with Allan Saint-Maximin’s cross. Arteta’s men have thus far struggled to get a foothold in the game, and the partisan crowd at the Emirates Stadium are starting to get edgy.

 

42 mins: Pepe forces Dubravka into a save

Pepe steps up to take a free-kick from 25 yards out. David Luiz stands close by, as if interested in taking the free-kick as well. But, given that the Brazilian’s previous set-piece attempts this season have all ended up in the clouds, where Emery’s head is, it’s a relief when it is indeed Pepe who takes the free-kick. It’s a little too high, but Martin Dúbravka takes no chances and pushes the ball out for a corner.

 

Half time: Arsenal 0 Newcastle 0

It ends goalless at the break. Arsenal fans surely expected their team to do better, but on the plus side, it could have been a whole lot worse for them, were it not for the reflexes of Leno and the general ineptitude of Joelinton. 

 

51 mins: Nketiah hits the bar as Pepe springs to life

Well, that’s more like it from Arsenal. After a neat interchange of passes between Mesut Ozil and Ceballos, the German sets Pepe scampering free on the right. The former Lille winger then turns and twists his marker into a life-sized replica of Ceballos’ man bun, before cutting the ball back for Nketiah, who blasts it onto the crossbar.

 

55 mins: GOAL! Aubameyang (who else?) puts Arsenal in front with a header

 

When you’ve got a draw

And you need to score

Who you gonna call?

Aubameyang!

 

Once again, it’s Arsenal’s top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who comes to their rescue, as he powers a header into Dubravka’s net from Pepe’s inviting cross. It’s no less than what Arteta and his men deserve, too, following their much-improved start to the second half.

 

57 mins: GOAL! Pepe scores from open play. No, really.

The impressive Pepe gets his just rewards with a clinical poacher’s goal, but all the credit has to go to Bukayo Saka for his role in the build-up to the goal. Seemingly crowded out on the left-flank by two Newcastle defenders, the 18-year-old does a Ronaldinho-esque shimmy and sends Valentino Lazaro back to Austria with the cheekiest of nutmegs, before cutting the ball back for Pepe to curl home for Arsenal’s second.

 

63 mins: Clark misses a sitter

Even with a relatively comfortable two goal lead, victory is never guaranteed when it comes to Arsenal. And so, it almost proved, as Ciaran Clark found himself free in the box with just Leno to beat, but somehow contrived to poke the ball wide like a regular Joelinton. Replays show that Clark’s shot took a nick off a recovering David Luiz, but still! A huge opportunity wasted for Newcastle, and a timely reminder to Arsenal that this game was far from over.

 

77 mins: Saint-Maximin hits the post!

‘Timely reminder’ my a*rse. Saint-Maximin, who has been a thorn in Arsenal’s side all day long, picks up on a loose ball in the attacking half and charges forward. Despite the attentions of two Arsenal defenders, the 22-year-old Frenchman still manages to get his shot away. The ball, thankfully, hits the post, and Shkodran Mustafi is on hand to clear the rebound. On a related note, anyone knows how much Saint-Maximin would cost to sign? Asking for a friend.

 

90 mins: GOAL! Ozil scores to cap off 35-pass move

It’s a goal right out of the Arsene Wenger/Pep Guardiola playbook – a gorgeous 35-pass move that saw every player (yes, even Leno) touch the ball once. Of course, as is befitting such wonderful build-up play, Ozil just had to scuff his shot right at the end. Thankfully, Dubravka – normally so reliable – spilled the shot and allowed the ball to trickle in.

 

90 + 5 mins: GOAL! Even Lacazette gets in on the act! Brace yourself, the end is near

You could put Pepe scoring from open play for Arsenal down as an anomaly. You could even close one eye to the phenomena of Ozil scoring in the same game and call it a once-in-a-lifetime event. But, to have Lacazette – a striker who hasn’t scored since December – get on the scoresheet as well? These back-to-back-to-back miracles can only mean one thing – the end is coming.

 

No, not the end of the world. So you can save yourself that trip to the supermarket to stock up on necessities.

 

I’m talking about the end of mediocre, underwhelming, frustrating Arsenal. Because, based on Arsenal’s second-half performance, the good times are surely coming back to the Emirates Stadium.

 

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