Three Things We Learned from Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal
The Premier League season is back and with it so are our Arsenal. And for the first time in 10 years, the Gunners walked away with their first road to open the season.
It wasn’t pretty but it’s the start of the season and with many of the senior squad still gaining fitness or out for a variety of reasons, the match gave us a chance to see the future a little bit early.
Still, a win is a win. And with the kickoff of the new season we start off with the return of regular post-match instant reaction – Three Things We Learned. . .
It’s Far Too Early to Tell Anything
Arsenal twitter is famous for a lot of things. One of those things is instant hot-takes that go over the top in either direction. Depending on who it is you follow on social media, you may have heard how bad the win was or how good it was.
Here’s the truth – it was neither. It was the first match of the season. 3 of the starters possibly more are unlikely going to be regular starters week-in, week out.
Additionally, the rhythm of the season takes time to build. These matches come with a different pace than the pre-season matches we saw when all we cared about was fitness.
Arsenal performed at 0.83 xG which was well below their average from last season of 1.92. They also managed to hold Newcastle to a 0.8 xG. They also managed an 87% pass success rate against a team sitting in a low block trying to prevent Arsenal from penetrating through the middle.
The stats overall indicate a team still trying to find its legs and likely missing key cogs to their overall ability to create. The likes of Mesut Özil were missing from the midfield and new star signings like Nicolas Pepe are still trying to gain match fitness after joining the squad a week ago.
Anyone trying to level any sort of criticism or over-the-top praise (like social media and press are wont to do) should really keep it in check. The win was a positive. Getting the first clean sheet on the road in the first game is a huge accomplishment. Especially for a team that only got one all season last year 2/3 of the way through the season.
The overall play had moments of promise, but it was at times predictable with most of Arsenal’s attack going through its wide players and predominantly through the left side (Reiss Nelson’s side.)
Movement in front of the ball was static and there was not enough rotation to move the ball effectively against a surprisingly well-organized Newcastle.
All of this should be expected. First match, players missing. Being overly critical of this match wouldn’t serve any purpose but to fill someone’s agenda.
As we said earlier though, a win is win. It’s a good building block and the players and coaches can take some positives from it.
The Kids Are Alright
If we want to find anything to be overly optimistic about, it has to be three Arsenal players made in the Hale End. The start of the Premier League provided starts for three academy products and to say they did not fail to deliver on their promise would be an understatement.
With Mesut Özil out due to the security concerns from the car jacking from two weeks ago, Joe Willock got the start working as the 10. Willock performed well, but still showed signs of needing to grow.
His pass success rate was 74% and he managed to only touch the ball 35 times – which is more down to the constant attacks out wide than any fault of the youngster. Still he didn’t look lost. He battled and fought against a team that times was playing on the edge of physicality.
With Alexandre Lacazette trying to get fit, Auba was played as the central striker which opened up a spot out wide on the left. And that meant that Reiss Nelson got the start.
Nelson is part of the new generation of English youngsters that are comfortable on the ball and willing to dribble and take on players in 1v1 situations. There was one moment in the game in the first half where Reiss got the ball in the half space of the left wing and made a diagonal penetrating run – it ended in a released pass but it was a glimpse of the excitement we’re all hoping to see from him.
Finally, with Hector Bellerin still recovering from his ACL injury Ainsley Maitland Niles got another chance to start and continue make a case for himself as regular beyond his fill in role.
It was his quick read of an under-hit pass that led to him intercepting the ball and crossing the ball in for Aubameyang’s goal which would turn out to be the winner.
AMN will likely get more starts than either of Willock and Nelson but together they showed the potential that exists in the current crop of youngsters that have been included in first team this season.
It gives hope to the thought that some day soon, we will a team on the pitch that is made more of these kind of players than players we have to buy. Which is what we should really be about – making stars, not buying them.
First Clean Sheet out of the Way
Clean sheets were a scarcity for Arsenal last season. We managed 6. Our first came on 23 September in a 2-0 win at home to Everton. The first away clean sheet came on 1 April in 1-0 win away to Watford. It was also our last clean sheet of the season.
While, Newcastle were always going to sit in a low block and cede possession to us. They also managed to get away 9 shots with 2 on target. Joelinton showed in one of those chances why he can give centre backs fits as he weaved through 4 defenders and got a shot off which was saved by Leno.
We don’t know what Emery’s final central defensive pairing will be. We do know it likely won’t be Chambers and Sokratis. But they really should get some praise today with Chambers getting the lion’s share for coming in after a season playing as a DM.
Specifically, Chamber’s positioning, something that was worrisome in his early years at the club, was spot on all day long. He never got caught out of position and he adjusted well to any threat in his area.
For a team known for capitulating goals in matches like this previously, it was a promising sight and one the Gunners faithful will hope they continue to see.
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