As far as professional victories go, Arsenal’s canter at the Emirates on Monday night was about as good as it’s been this season.
The match was never destined to be a classic so it fell to the Gunners to create the momentum, energy, and intensity needed to make the chances and force the pace in a way that can be so difficult against a team that has no intention of coming out to play.
Thankfully, Arsenal were simply too good for an abject Newcastle side and were full value for the 2-0 win. Frankly, not many would have begrudged them three or four.
Arsenal sides have so often struggled with complacency in fixtures like this one but you get the impression that Unai Emery doesn’t tolerate such frivolity. He is well known for his demanding style and that urgency and desire was much in evidence in his charges on Monday night.
Rafael Benitez came to be difficult and so it was for large portions of the match but, crucially, the Magpies carried almost no threat on the break, allowing Arsenal to squeeze the match into the opposing half without much fear of being stung.
Newcastle were compact and combative but lacked the quality and tenacity needed to keep an Arsenal side brimming with confidence and still carrying its pre-international break momentum.
I’ve often watched these sorts of matches with knots in my stomach but there was scarcely so much as a flutter for the 90 minutes, and I can’t describe how satisfying that was.
The three points moved us up into third place in the Premier League. Those are some dizzying heights and almost inconceivable given where we were six weeks ago. Emery has ridden something of a storm to get the side where it is now and full credit to him. He has negotiated a really tumultuous period in which fans started to moan and groan with class, with composure, and with an unshakeable belief in his method.
The public falling out with Mesut Ozil looked at one stage to have been a gamble too far for Emery, and certainly looked to be costing the team, but the German’s man of the match performance on Monday night brought the story full circle and showed, in the end, that the manager had the right of it.
Of course Emery has made errors this season, not least the lack of defensive recruitment in January, but he has also made some excellent decisions that have, beyond all expectations, seen Arsenal turn into serious top four contenders. Who would seriously have thought that were possible at the end of January?
I’m not yet getting carried away. We have some testing away fixtures to come that will almost certainly define our season, but the nature of the win over Newcastle was a measure of the progress in this team. They were efficient, dogged, and resilient in a way Arsenal sides have not been for a decade.
Even the players who came into the game as substitutes, like Mohamed Elneny, were on message immediately, and picked up where they colleagues had left off.
That is genuine cohesion and a testament to the work being done on the training ground.
Success over the Magpies is not the end of the story by any means, but it is another small piece of the puzzle that is forming a satisfying picture for Gunners’ fans.
Now to Sunday and a testing trip to Everton where our shaky away form really will come under the spotlight.