Arsenal's New Era Continues with a Win
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
After his Parisian Adventure, Unai Emery Continues to Try to Build a Team in His Image
Arsenal opened their Premier League campaign away for the first time in 8 years against a Newcastle club that has failed to inspire its passionate fanbase during the latest transfer window (and in any prior ones, as well).
Arsenal had five players that could easily all start, begin the game on the bench. Newcastle though could not be underestimated, playing at home in front of a vocal support with a team at times under-appreciated, boasting the new signing Joelton, combustible but talented midfield dynamo Jonjo Shelvey, promising youngster Sean Longstaff, left-foot wizard Matt Richie and the dynamite Miguel Almirón, who harbors a passing resemblance in story and physical appearance to the main character in the 2005 film Goal! Hopefully, Real Madrid are keeping tabs on him.
No Ozil, linked with DC United, to be found. Fullbacks Hector Bellerin, Sead Kolisinac and Kieran Tierney were not fit to make the bench. Centerbacks Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi also did not make the team.
The return of Steve Bruce to the Premier League has disappointed Newcastle fans after the departure of fan favorite Rafa Benitez. He might not reinvent the wheel but he does know how to achieve results.
The game, boasting two historically impressive clubs, would be an engaging one despite the 1-0 scoreline.
Miguel Almirón would be at the heart of much of Newcastle’s moments, positive and otherwise. He received a yellow for a clear dive in the penalty box. Something he may want to reconsider doing lest he invite more comments such as the one from an NBCsn commentator on how South Americans, although apparently not a strictly geographical trait, have mastered the dark arts. Reiss Nelson, British, receiving a yellow card for a late, strong tackle though “shows bite.” Almirón was later confused with Manquillo for exaggerating a tackle by Granit Xhaka. It appears as though Almirón will draw attention on and off the pitch.
Arsenal may have dominated possession but Newcastle commanded respect and space constantly proving a threat. The Toon Army looked much the stronger side, more confident but anytime Arsenal approached the final third there was the distinct feeling they could hurt the home team. At the same time however, it was just as likely that they may ruin the potential move with a faulty pass or control, demonstrated by Aubameyang, potentially devastating but largely inconspicuous per usual, carelessly losing the ball in a one v. one on the left flank.
He would appear minutes later in the 31st minute showcasing his intelligent movement dipping in and out, staying onside and receiving a delectable chipped pass by Mkhitaryan. The former St. Étienne forward produced a sublime control but then fired the shot straight at Dubravka.
As the first half came to close, Arsenal started to show that fantastic fluidity that even in the day and age of Manchester City (and Liverpool) speaks to football fans all over the world like no other, reminiscent of the heyday of Arsène Wenger. Unfortunately, for the Gunners it petered out unimpressively and the first 45’ finished 0-0.
Jetro Willems, former PSV left-back, came on to make his debut in place of Jonjo Shelvey who received a knock in the first half and was given a run out in the second half but couldn’t quite get past the injury.
This Arsenal midfield might be the most physical since Alex song and Alou Diaby patrolled that area.
Newcastle shot themselves in the foot in the 57’ minute. With a slack pass from Dummett to Willems who reacted late allowing Maitland-Niles to intercept and play an excellent ball to Aubameyang who was left with acres of space to control with the outside of the boot and and finish past the goalkeeper in the same style. It was a blistering counterattack with a dribble, one pass, a control and a finish. Lascelles, the veteran Toon centerback was drawn too far left by a Mkhitaryan run leaving Aubameyang free to punish the Newcastle mistake. The Armenian and the Gabonese striker appear to enjoy playing together.
Arsenal has plenty of bright young stars. Hopefully, Reiss Nelson will receive plenty of game time this season ; he showed he was a prospect in the Arsenal youth ranks prior to last season and then performed well in the Bundesliga as a teenager with Hoffenheim. Arsenal would not want another Serge Gnabry situation. Joe Willock, off in the 64’ minute, is another one for the future and the present. Dani Ceballos, the highly rated young Spanish Real Madrid midfielder took his place.
Saint-Maximin, formerly of Nice, with the number ten shirt came on for the youngster Longstaff and started the game fiercely. The forward is powerful and confident. He and Almirón could prove to be combustible. Joelton could benefit a great deal from playing with them. The return of Andy Carroll, lacking fitness, might not be the ideal partner. Newcastle will be fun to watch.
The most eagerly anticipated player (for the Gunners) was Arsenal club-record signing Nicolas Pépé, with over 20 goals and 10 assists last season for Lille came on for the impressive Reiss Nelson. Nelson shined at times but unsurprisingly for such a young player drifted in and out of the game.
Pépé’s first contribution was stamped out by Dummett but his confidence was already on display.
Ceballos and Pépé, particularly the latter, started with a few slack controls and passes Gabriel Martinelli, am exciting Brazilian teenager, made a somewhat surprise appearance but commenced the game like his fellow substitutes ; with a sloppy pass. It should please Arsenal fans, however, to know that Unai Emery will continue to promote youth, at least to start the campaign. The promising Martinelli at times looked like a bumblebee buzzing around, looking to get involved.
Steve Bruce was far from the most exciting of choices and his appointment continued a worrying British tradition of the old boys’ club, the same managers (Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce to name but three) consistently receiving opportunities in place of younger, innovative British managers (Graham Potter!) despite the latter’s claim that foreign managers were the ones to blame for lack of progression and evolution of young British management. However, one thing that is certain is that Bruce will get his team fighting for points and although the Andy Carroll signing suggests a return to “traditional play,” the Newcastle team did show ambition and creativity. They may struggle to repeat last season’s finish with the whole of Premier League appearing stronger, but they cold prove to be a very exciting watch.
Arsenal starting with an away win will bolster morale even if it was far from the most impressive of wins, the caveat being the incredible number of players missing who could potentially start. This Arsenal team will as always be fun to watch with their youth, confidence, midfield steel (Xhaka, Torreira and the at times unfairly criticized 20-year old French pivot Guendouzi), attacking potency and Emery’s tinkering tendencies.
Although there was just one goal in the game and the losers at times were more impressive, both sets of fans can look towards an intriguing if perhaps unsettling upcoming season.