Arsenal began their Premier League season with victory, as a second half goal from last season’s top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earned the Gunners maximum points.
It was also a boost to earn an away win and a clean sheet after last season’s efforts to gain a clean sheet away from home – one was achieved in the entire season. The game was a physical affair and space was at a premium, but Unai Emery will be more than pleased to get the first victory of the season under their belts.
New signings were on the bench as Unai Emery opted for those who had performed in pre-season. That meant starts for the likes of Calum Chambers rather than David Luiz, Reiss Nelson instead of Nicolas Pepe and Jo Willock in place of Dani Ceballos.
The first half was a war of attrition, with chances at a premium. There were openings however, with Newcastle coming the closest in the form of a Jonjo Shelvey snap shot that was deflected off the woodwork.
We troubled Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal, with a half volley from Auba prompting a save, the Gabon man being fed with a looped pass from Mkhitaryan.
Mkhi did have a chance himself to open the Arsenal account, but his shot was wild when well placed.
More often than not, the game was being fought in midfield, and Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi did well to keep us tight and ensure runners were tracked.
Joelinton was the home side’s dangerman, their record signing showed glimpses of his power and did have an opportunity of his own making, but fired straight at Leno in the box.
There were some standout performers as we were pressed for space, with Maitland-Niles standing up when we needed him, and our centre-backs not giving an inch when they were required to.
The first half ended on a damp squib though, as the goalmouth action was lacking and the constant Newcastle rain matched the amount of drama on the pitch.
The second half could have heralded changes but Emery opted for more of the same, and it was a good thing he did, as Auba broke the deadlock in the 58th minute.
Maitland-Niles nipped in and took out an attempted pass, and then proceeded to bomb down the right. He saw Auba on the run in the box and crossed for the striker to take one touch to control, before poking past the onrushing Dubravka.
Soon after, Emery made some subs, with record man Nicolas Pepe coming on and Dani Ceballos too, with Nelson and Willock making way.
We had control of the game and were keeping the home side at full length, but we couldn’t rest too easy as one simple goal could be the undoing of our attempt to bring the points home.
Luckily, there were no lapses of concentration, no unlucky deflections and no moments that stole the points, as our side saw out the remaining minutes to ensure we started off the season with a win.
What pointers can we take from the 90?
Nelson and Willock at the right level
Both players would have relished the chance they had been given, and they didn’t let anyone down. The space was tight so Nelson couldn’t really stretch his legs, but both were tidy in possession and in the absence of the likes of Laca, Ozil and Ceballos, we didn’t look too bereft. More to come from both.
Chambers can be the game changer
Much was made of our hunt for a centre back, and we snatched one in David Luiz. Chambers has meanwhile gone about his pre-season business with the minimum of fuss and this performance showed he can step in and be the regular partner Sokratis needs. Composed and aerially strong in the face of a teak-tough Joelinton, Chambers was solid.
Supply is key
The second decent ball that found Auba, he put it away. The first was a god save from Dubravka, but it showed that if we can supply our attackers with a decent amount of supply, we have the goals to fire us to a higher position this season. Mkhitaryan, Ceballos, Ozil, Willock and Nelson have a job to do.
Away clean sheet is sign of progress
Considering how long we had to wait for one last season, and that we earned a single clean sheet on our travels in the league, the fact we have one instantly is a decent sign that our backline is up to scratch.