Newcastle United 0-1 Arsenal - Analysing the defence
Arsenal secured a capable win at St. James's Park, and this wasn't necessarily plain sailing. Newcastle had some chances, but our superior attacking prowess won the day.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got the winner with a clever dink over the keeper, but what impressed me with the win was the defence.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopolous, Calum Chambers, and Nacho Monreal comprised our back four and together with keeper Bernd Leno, kept Newcastle at bay with some clean and resolute defending.
Newcastle United isn't the greatest attacking threat in the country. But they weren't able to get many chances, especially in the second half, and in large part this was down to the defence's sharpness.
Yes, there is the caveat of Newcastle. Liverpool and the old enemy Spurs will be different prospects - with Salah, Firmino, Mane, Son and Kane featuring.
But there were some points in this capacity, that could bear green shoots for the future:
Closing down space
Newcastle's wingers provided sound width in good times.
But Maitland-Niles down the right and Chambers/Sokratis in the middle were able to clear and block when required.
A major part of our issues has been organisational and structural. But in this game, the defence kept a good line, were solid, and denied their wingers time in their key spaces.
This was a critical flaw in past seasons, and the players seemed attuned and attentive.
To close down effectively requires bravery, tenacity, good reflexes and reactions, and concentration, and all four defenders showed this ably.
Kieran Tierney would provide more to us, though Nacho Monreal had a sound outing.
We've often been repeatedly been caught out by runners, either in the attack or from midfield.
Linton looked sharp on some occasions, as did their wide players St. and
But the full-backs and centre-backs were strong and able to clear in the appropriate spaces.
Part of having a good defence is not just about how the actual defence operates. Defence is team-based, and often the midfield has allowed sides to pass around them or not cope with runners and pressing.
Xhaka, Guendouzi and Willock all battled well, and passed the ball as well as retrieving it also.
Xhaka too, as captain, was stable and he was combative and much as he was creative.
With Torreira to come back, this could reinforce this, and this would be crucial with tougher opposition later in the month and in early September (Liverpool away and Tottenham at home).
Aubameyang was very busy in other areas bar his goal. He pressed and worked the channels, and Mkhitaryan attempted to get forward and limit Newcastle's attacking movements.
Nelson also was attempting to block and contain Newcastle, and the front pressed fairly well overall.
There will be far harder tests to come, though analysing the defensive structure has to be progressive. Arsenal seemingly hasn't progressed defensively that much, nor seemingly is the club learning from past defensive errors. So it's telling to see if this year-old issue can be corrected or not. In this context though, we did well at Newcastle.
Burnley is next, but if we're to get a good defence, we need to carry on game by game. Their forwards have caused us issues in the past, and Sean Dyche has had some unlucky losses to us if we're honest. He will test the Arsenal defence to see if we're weak, and it will be a matter of being as resolved as we were in this latest win at Newcastle.
Defending was the difference between top four last season and the Europa League. And it could be again if we don't shape up.
Today was a potential green shoot, but it's imperative that we carry it forward.