Arsenal travelled to St James’ Park on Sunday for their Premier League fixture against 17th placed Newcastle United. Three points against the Magpies took Arsenal up to ninth in the Premier League, but the fans’ attention immediately turned to the Europa League semi-final second leg against Villareal as soon as the final whistle left Mike Dean’s lips.
Genuine interest in the Premier League positions died four weeks earlier when it became apparent to even the most optimistic supporter that the Gunners were out of contention for a top-four finish. The Newcastle United vs Arsenal match was merely an opportunity to have a run-out and try to learn from the obvious mistakes committed in Spain.
The team selection, although not perfect, and probably baring no resemblance to the one which will face Unai Emery’s Villareal, did enough to overwhelm a jaded Newcastle who never really offered the challenge of a Europa League semi-finalist. There were 8 changes and the team had a slight tombola feel to it, but there were some decent performances and gratifying elements from this dead rubber.
The goals came from Mohamed Elneny (6), his first Premier League goal since he joined the club in 2016 and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (66), who reverted to his stand up flat-top hairstyle rather than his sparse dreadlocks interlude, and coincidentally, he managed to kick start his goal tally which had stalled horribly.
Mohamed Elneny scores his first Premier League goal for Arsenal! Great start from the Gunners
— Arsenal Best Goals & Videos (@AFCBestGoals) May 2, 2021
I’m not insinuating it was the hair because the assist by the dazzling Gabriel Martinelli put the chance on a very large plate for the Gabon striker, but just four days before the biggest game of Arsenal’s season so far and with so much at stake, Arteta’s captain needed a goal to send out a warning.
This was a reasonably decent and competitive game up to a point, it was nothing spectacular but Arsenal offered up a workman-like performance without breaking a sweat or looking in danger of losing the game. Newcastle United treated the Arsenal penalty area as if it was sacred ground, only on the rare occasion did they look as if there was any attacking intent but with no end product to show for it. That very much sums up Newcastle’s season.
With one eye on the Europa League, Mikel Arteta should have confirmed in his mind that Martinelli and Aubameyang will be joined by Saka in attack for the all-important 2nd leg tie at the Emirates. Ceballos put in a decent shift to cause his manager a headache for the available middle slots, Xhaka wasn’t troubled too often and Matt Ryan looked solid if required.
David Luiz, just back from injury, was back on the treatment table and probably out of contention for Thursday with a hamstring injury. It was all the more annoying after a solid performance but no doubt Holding will fill that particular void. The former Bury man was absent from the bench which is a little concerning, but Mari was evident to dispel any thoughts of a crisis in the heart of the defence.
Arsenal looked to put the game out of sight after the Egyptian opened the scoring. The popular midfielder from a changing room perspective nearly got a second from a header but for a late interception. I should castigate him more often in the podcast if this is the result.
Xhaka and Gabriel tried their luck and everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Arsenal extended their lead, but let’s be mindful that Newcastle United are suffering battle fatigue and not on the verge of a European final slot, so fans can’t be complacent.
Martinelli was the standout performer for me with his energy, persistence, and creativity. The Brazilian offered a way through whenever he got the ball and if Arteta is serious about competing next season, then Martinelli should feature every week. No excuses, no protection required.
If this were a school report, it would demand more effort and consistency because you never know which Arsenal will show up, Arteta’s side are eons away from being good value entertainment. It was better but that’s not saying much after what we’ve been subjected to recently.