Post Match Review
Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United: Key Takeaways
Arsenal bounced back from the defeat at Anfield with a comfortable 2-0 win against relegation contender Newcastle United on Saturday afternoon. While it is expected for Arsenal to get maximum points in a home match against bottom of the league Newcastle- it is not uncommon for Arsenal to struggle against the lower half of the table in recent seasons. By almost every metric, there are three real title contenders this year: Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool who all look to be in another league compared to the rest. What that leaves, however, is a fourth and final champions league place up for grabs. Arsenal currently are in 5th place and are level on points with 4th place West Ham, who just lost away against Manchester City. Fortunately, the remaining weekend’s fixtures were also favorable to Arsenal which has consolidated the league position- albeit temporarily. Here are my key takeaways from this weekend’s match.
Arteta developing excellent man-management
After the less than stellar performances for Nuno Tavares and Sambi Lokonga, many (including myself) assumed that Kieran Tierney would take Tavares’ place in the starting XI against Newcastle. However, this was not the case, Tavares kept his place in the starting lineup, and he rewarded Arteta’s show of faith in the 21-year-old with an assist and an all-around stellar performance. Further, many wondered if Ainsley Maitland-Niles would take the place of Lokonga- but again the young Belgian kept his place and rewarded the manager with arguably his best performance to date. To me, the manager deserves a lot of credit for not only understanding these two young players had the mental makeup to brush off poor performances in the first place, but the courage to follow through with it. I am not so sure it is a decision that Arteta would have made last year- and a sign he is developing as a manager himself.
Gabriel Martinelli primed to Break Out
After only playing 12 Premier League minutes since the opening two fixtures- fans were beginning to wonder whether Martinelli had gotten on Arteta’s bad side- and could be due for a loan move in January. When Bukayo Saka went down with an injury, it was a shock to see Martinelli substituted in, especially since Martinelli had yet to feature on the right side before. While this potentially has more to say about where Nicolas Pepe sits in the pecking order- it only took Martinelli 93 seconds to score an exquisite goal which surely puts him in line for more minutes moving forward. With the January African Cup of Nations looming- was this another stroke of genius from Arteta to prime Martinelli with minutes? Martinelli will surely feature throughout the congested winter fixture list and it is easy to see how he could be primed to break out in the upcoming few months ahead.
Arsenal’s Youth Outshines Again
It feels like the headline ‘Arsenal’s Youth Shines in Win’ could be copied and pasted from almost every fixture this season and it remains true again this weekend. Both goals were scored and assisted by, players 23-years-old and younger this weekend. While it is exciting to watch Hale End talent get on the scoresheet, Arsenal cannot simply rely on their young players to win every game. Further, it isn’t that the experienced players are playing well, the youth are just playing better. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had the miss of the season, and was disappointing yet again; Thomas Partey, who equally needed to bounce back from a poor performance against Liverpool, was out-staged by his midfield partner; Nicolas Pepe was an unused substitute and likely saw his minutes further dwindle after the solid Martinelli performance. It is the experienced, big money, players who have been disappointing and is something that must be fixed before too long.
Important wins vs Bottom Feeders
As I mentioned at the top, Arsenal sit in 5th place and level on points with West Ham in 4th place. While the league position feels exciting- Arsenal are just 5 points above 10th place Leicester. Only a couple of points will likely separate positions 4-8 in the final table at the end of the season, so every point really does matter. While it is easy to focus on stealing points from the ‘Big Three’ at the top as a way of securing Top 4, recently Arsenal have struggled to beat up on the teams at the lower end of the table. If Arsenal end up pushing for Top 4, after already losing to each of Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester City once this season, it will have to be off the back of maximizing points against the teams’ Arsenal theoretically should be beating already.