After what seemed like an eternity, the international break was finally over and our eyes could once again feast upon the Premier League as it returned to our screens for Gameweek 5. I couldn’t wait to get my dose of Arsenal again as I eagerly awaited the kick off, but I knew that it might prove a tricky fixture for us, despite Newcastle being so poor in form as of late.
Travelling to St James’ Park is never easy, as we’ve learned from last season, where Newcastle came from behind to beat us 2–1. Looking back at that game, we didn’t field the strongest team we had — and in fact, it was also one of the first times Wenger started Lacazette and Aubameyang together — so I was hoping we’d put out a stronger team this time round, but still keep Laca and Auba in the starting lineup.
But regardless of our bad away omen, and last year’s loss in this fixture, I was feeling pretty confident for this game. In fact, I was feeling a bit too optimistic when I predicted a 4–1 victory to the Arsenal. That wasn’t to be though, but at least I predicted the win correctly, as well as the opposition scoring at least one goal, sadly. I don’t know when I’ll be confident enough to predict a clean sheet again, because like I’ve said before in my previous posts, our defence is still very shaky and needs vast improvement. You could argue that there is progress though, as we kept a clean sheet for 90 minutes this time… but we switched off at the very end and conceded a stoppage-time goal which put me on the edge of my couch for the last few minutes.
I think I speak for many Arsenal fans when I say that the first half of this match was very frustrating to watch. There was absolutely no fluidity in the squad, and I was quickly growing worried that we were’t getting stuck into this game early on. Eight corners conceded in the first half just shows you the amount of pressure Newcastle were putting on us, so you could say that defensively we were sound, but going forward we were poor, mustering only 2 shots and both of them were off target. However, I did notice some players putting in good shifts in that first half, Papa Sokratis in particular. He was the stand out player for me, as he was finally starting to show signs of a quality defender. Did you see his pace while tracking back? Did you see his clean, crunching tackle? Good Lord, it’s as if the Greek Gods had blessed him on the day as he entered this ‘beast mode’ I had never seen before. Just imagine the prospect of him and captain Kos (granted they both stay fit) as our central defenders for the rest of the season… Marvelous.
Cech also played relatively well. I say this because my stress levels weren’t as high and the TV didn’t stand a chance of getting the remote thrown at it. In fact, I think he had a good game and was unlucky to concede that last goal at the end. During the first half he also starting lobbing the ball up field instead of dilly-dallying with it at the back and some of his distributions actually found the right man up front! That’s more like it, Cech.
But thankfully the whistle was blown on one of the worst halves of football for us this season. We kept Newcastle at bay and went in level with 0–0. I have no idea what Unai Emery told the team at half time, but you could see that they were fired up in the second half. Instant impact as well, especially when he brought Lucas Torreira on for Matteo Guendouzi. I was disappointed before the game to find out that Torreira wasn’t starting this game but I had heard that he had taken a slight knock during the international break, so I was forgiving in Emery’s decision to play him as a sub. But once again, the kid turned up and showed us the difference he makes to this team. You sort of feel for Guendouzi though, being subbed off as early as half time, but I think he’s happy he’s at least getting some minutes in and contributing to the team. I mean, after all he is still a teenager and still has a lot to learn. But you must admit, that Xhaka-Torreira partnership in the midfield looks really promising, and I hope Torreira has proved himself enough to the manager to start the next game. I would also like to point out that Xhaka had an incredible game on Saturday, and besides one misplaced pass (that I know of), he didn’t put a foot wrong in the entirety of that match. The Swiss international has come under heavy criticism from the Arsenal faithful, but he surely shut the haters up after that incredible free kick which put the Arsenal 1–0 ahead. What. A. Strike.
And speaking of criticism, Mesut Özil has also been one of those players to come under fire, but he too proved his critics wrong with a stellar performance on the day. I think the international break was a nice rest for him, as the German seemed more relaxed and was very instrumental in our play, and marked his 200th appearance for the club with a goal. The media must be fuming I presume, as they’ll be forced to write nice things about Xhaka and Özil for a change, or they’ll just take the day off, I don’t know. Either way I’m proud of these two for showing all of us the quality that they clearly possess and proving their critics wrong.
Interestingly enough, Özil’s goal was Arsenal’s tenth goal of the season, with all goals (except that one own goal) coming from different players, namely: Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Monreal, Welbeck, Mustafi, Aubameyang, Lacazette, Xhaka and Özil. I was disappointed that Auba and Laca didn’t get on the score sheet again, but I’m confident that they’ll get back to their scoring ways this weekend coming up.
Overall I had a fantastic weekend! Not only did that win over Newcastle mark our second away win in a row for us, something that comes as a rare occurrence for us lately, but the Spuds also lost to Liverpool, which means we had the chance to get level on points with them on the table. We could overhaul them, but that would mean we needed to score 4 goals at St James’ Park, and we all know what happened last time we did that.
Next up in the Premier League is Everton at the Emirates and I’ve got a good feeling about this one. The Toffees were on a good run, but this weekends 3–1 loss to 20th placed West Ham must have dented their confidence a bit and I’m sure we can capitalize on that. We’re also back in Europe this week with some Europa league action against FC Vorskla, so we might just see some of the youngsters feature, and possibly catch a glimpse of Bernd Leno in goal and Stephan Lichtsteiner in defence, finally! I’m looking forward to that one.Come on you Gunners!