It’s not often you come away from Tyneside with quite so convincing a win as Arsenal managed on Sunday.
Like many, I didn’t have high expectations for Mikel Arteta’s makeshift side ahead of kick-off, partly because of Thursday’s crucial second-leg against Villareal and partly because this Arsenal team is so apt to disappoint you can’t help but expect the worst.
In the end, it turned out to be one of Arsenal’s best performances of the season. No ifs, no buts, they were excellent from start to finish and were full value for the win. A few more goals would have been nice but who are we to turn our noses up at three points?
It’s worth noting that a recent upturn in form has seen Steve Bruce’s Newcastle all but secure their Premier League status for another season but, that said, they have put in some impressive performances at St James’ Park of late and have always been a daunting proposition on home turf.
Not so on Sunday, though, as an Arsenal side that featured eight changes from Thursday’s sojourn in Spain assumed control from the outset.
A midfield of Mohamed Elneny and the oft-mailgned Dani Ceballos is not one that would fill too many opposition managers with dread but the pair were industrious and highly effective, utterly nullifying the home side. Elneny has enjoyed a good season back in north London and his early goal was another feather in his cap. Whatever we may think of his abilities, you can’t help but be delighted for him whenever he scores.
There was a brief flurry of activity from the home side in the aftermath of our opener, with the pacey and dangerous Allan Saint-Maximin leading the charge but, aside from a deflected effort that was well-saved by Mat Ryan, the hosts never troubled Arteta’s men.
From the middle of the first half onwards, it was an exercise in game management for Arsenal as they enjoyed the sort of control they have rarely been afforded this season. Whether fatigue or their relative safety was a factor in their efforts, Newcastle weren’t really at the races and we were happy just to canter around the pitch.
There were some useful minutes from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (and a goal to boot), as well as important game time for Gabi Martinelli and compatriot Gabriel – all of whom may be in contention to start on Thursday.
The only real shame from an Arsenal perspective was a season-ending injury for David Luiz. The Brazilian was playing some lovely passes from deep until one such pass saw his hamstring tweak. It could be an ignominious end for the Brazilian after the best part of two years at the Emirates and a blow for Arteta, who may have been looking to start him on Thursday.
That aside, it was a near-perfect afternoon for Arsenal. They carry a little winning momentum into the Europa League and some key players were rested. It was an outcome few of us expected but it was enormously welcome nonetheless.
All eyes now turn to Thursday. COYG!