Arsenal (0) 4 Newcastle United (0) 0
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 16th February 2020. Kick-off time: 4.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Bukayo Saka; Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Mesut Özil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; Eddie Nketiah.
Substitutes: Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Alexandre Lacazette, Lucas Torreira, Emiliano Martínez, Joe Willock, Sead Kolašinac, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (54 mins), Nicolas Pépé (56 mins), Mesut Özil (89 mins), Alexandre Lacazette (94 mins)
Yellow Cards: Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 67%
Referee: Lee Mason
Attendance: circa 60,000
For our first competitive match in eighteen days, we welcome old adversaries Newcastle United, who are a place below us in the Premier League table at the time of writing, but unfortunately share the same points as us; both sides desperately need a victory at The Emirates this afternoon, which by rights, should lead to a fiercely competitive match. The big news of the day is that young and exciting Eddie Nketiah has earned a place in the starting eleven ahead of Alexandre Lacazette; could this surprising decision be a glimpse of the future?
A wild and thunderous beginning to the match which saw Granit Xhaka picking up the first booking of the game with less than ten minutes on the clock due to a reckless challenge; however, as a team, we started to push the ball around fairly confidently and were unlucky not to open the scoring when an impressive attack broke down in the Magpies’ penalty area. Incredibly, goalie Bernd Leno pulled off a miraculous save when a shot from Sean Longstaff ricocheted off Dani Ceballos’ leg which was destined for the back of our net, when somehow our goalkeeper twisted himself around to turn the ball around the post for a corner. A close shave indeed. Despite the team struggling to gain rhythm and control in the first quarter of the game, Bukayo Saka was unlucky not to score after twenty minutes when a looping shot from outside the box narrowly missed the opponents’ goal. Worryingly, Newcastle United seemed to catch us cold with fast smash’n’grab tactics, and it has to be said that it was some kind of miracle that many of their attacks did not end up with the visitors taking the lead. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claimed our first shot on target just after the half-hour mark when a Mesut Özil inch-perfect pass found our Gabon striker just inside the box, but his left-footed shot was easily saved by Martin Dúbravka in the visitors’ goal. Now we started to wake up, with a series of intelligent movements both on and off the ball; it was one of these attacks on the visitors’ goal that led to a superb shot from Eddie Nketiah that by rights, on any other day, would have been a goal had it not been for an excellent save from the Magpies’ goalie, who just before half-time also athletically tipped a Nicolas Pépé free-kick over the bar.
Half-time came and went, with the second half starting pretty much as the first one ended, with Arsenal gaining control and passing the ball around looking for a way through the Magpies’ midfield. Eddie Nketiah hit the crossbar from close range after some sterling work by Nicolas Pépé on the byline, jinking in and out of defenders seemingly at will. At last, after fifty-four minutes, a Nicolas Pépé cross into the visitors’ area found the head of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who wasted no time in opening the scoring for us, and incredibly, just two minutes’ later, Bukayo Saka twisted and turned two Newcastle defenders inside out on the left wing, then passed the ball low and true for Nicolas Pépé, who scored our second goal of the day with his sweet left foot. Fortunately for us, Ciaran Clark missed an open goal just after the hour mark, and we somehow appeared to just reboot and start again with hardly a blink. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bounced the ball off the crossbar after a Mesut Özil assist, and by now, our confidence became obvious to all and sundry as the match wore on. Allan Saint-Maximin hit the post with an clever shot with a quarter of an hour remaining, and although we were shaken, we were certainly not stirred. After Bukayo Saka pointlessly received a yellow card for an unfortunate collision, Lucas Torreira replaced Dani Ceballos with ten minutes of the match remaining, and so with the game ebbing away, Eddie Nketiah was substituted for Alexandre Lacazette; seeing fresh legs on the pitch, the team were off and running again. Literally, with a minute to go on the clock, Nicolas Pépé managed to pass a simple ball to Alexandre Lacazette, who, as he was falling down, got the ball to the advancing Mesut Özil, who easily put the ball into the back of the net for our third of the match (and his first goal for ten months as well). Joe Willock replaced goalscorer Mesut Özil in injury time, and despite the massive advantage, we still came forward looking for more goals to be added to our tally; and we did! Alexandre Lacazette got our fourth and final goal from close range in the fourth minute of injury time to make it a satisfying afternoon’s work for everyone involved with Arsenal Football Club.
Well, just how good was that win today? Overall, we played very well, and there were so many good things to take away from this match. Just how impressive was Bukayo Saka out on the left? It was great to see Nicolas Pépé becoming the player that we all know he can be, and Mesut Özil played like a man possessed at times, spraying passes hither and thither. There couldn’t have been an Arsenal fan in the stadium who wanted to run on the pitch and give Alexandre Lacazette a hug of relief when he scored the winner in injury time. We needed this victory so much after everything the fans, players and this club has been through in the past few months. Let us savour the win, and hope it gives us renewed confidence for the rest of the season, starting with the Europa League game at Olympiacos on Thursday. At last. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Olympiacos at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Greece on Thursday 20th February at 8.00pm (Europa League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.