Our first game of the season ended exactly how we wished for it – with three points.
Unai Emery opted for the promise of youth in his side, rather than give his new signings a baptism of fire at St James Park, and that mean two standout pre-season performers were given a golden opportunity to impress.
Jo Willock and Reiss Nelson had the job of assisting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up top with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. While most would agree that the first half especially was devoid of chances, could we say that either player fell flat?
Both were economical with possession in what was a tight affair, with any mistakes most likely proving costly. They didn’t let anyone down, and in a high-pressure game, they didn’t stand out because of their inexperience.
Jo Willock especially was an influence in the middle of the park, breaking up play when necessary and looking to spring Auba when possible. It didn’t quite come off for both in terms of their influence in attack, but does that mean they flopped?
Far from it. They will have worse games than this, where mistakes will stand out and doubters will cry out for a loan spell or a time on the bench. When a player is good enough though, they are good enough regardless of age – mistakes are how we all learn.
And that’s the rub – neither made a mistake. Both more than warrant the place in the squad and the more trusted positions that they currently occupy.
We can be under no illusions that when fully acclimatised, players like Nicolas Pepe will come and in enjoy the lions share of minutes – but with such an exhausting programme of fixtures over the campaign, both Nelson and Willock will prove more than decisive this season.
Nelson was afforded precious little space to run and use his close control to deceive his opposing number, and Willock was crowded out by a decent press from Newcastle. There was enough to show though, that given the space, both players can make their mark.
Youth isn’t a detriment, and Nelson and Willock are two who will show their worth.