Arsenal 1 – 0 Newcastle United
If you see a better goal this season, I will be surprised. More than surprised; astounded, amazed. My gast will be well and truly flabbered.
The technique required to volley the ball from that height underlined why Arsenal paid £42m; it’s a different argument from his contribution to this Arsenal team. Indeed, it should never be mentioned in the same breath; Mesut Özil’s 24th-minute volley is one of the best seen in any match, let alone one of ours.
It resulted from the man everyone loves to hate doing what everyone loves to hate about him: chasing the ball. Alexis’ shot was blocked and as the ball dropped toward the head of the defender, he challenged. Not stood and watched, feeling frustrated and cursing his luck; made it as difficult as possible for an opponent to clear.
Özil applied the finish. Zidane-esque, better than Zidane although to be fair, his came in a Champions League final. A touch more of an occasion than Newcastle at home but does that matter. If the club produced end-of-season DVD’s, you might just sit and watch that again and again.
It was the brightest spot in the game, with Maitland-Niles and Wilshere the other positives. Jack finished another 90 minutes which surely confirmed a new contract; how much more proof do you need? His ninth full match of the season which is more than Alexandre Lacazette can lay claim to.
The question for Arsène is how to field Wilshere and Ramsey in the same line-up? As a pairing, there isn’t enough defensive thinking or discipline; it’s neither of their natural game to be a defensive midfielder. To accommodate them, Özil or Sanchez must drop out and that isn’t going to happen just yet.
Young Gun, Go For It
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the final positive performance. It was another which deserves the praise he is receiving. A skip through the Newcastle defence almost crowned it with a fine goal.
I believe he is the future. He can play left back, right back, central midfield. Of the three positions, maybe the least natural for him is left back, but he adapts very quickly and is a good defender. He has that sense of one against one, he is very strong, he is very quick, he has very quick recovery runs when he comes back. He has some aspects to learn: experience and he has to work on his heading. But overall, what he has done in the last three days is positive.
Is he ready for the central midfield role that is deemed his natural position? It might be worth trying with Xhaka out of sorts but not in a big game. That is the kind of experiment for the Carabao Cup and dead rubbers in the Europa League group stage; both those ships have sailed.
His inclusion was the surprise of the line-up but I suspect Kolasinac will be back for Liverpool. I wonder if we revert to a back three for that match? We gave up plenty of chances to a distinctly average Newcastle and better strikers will punish our laxness. They will; it’s not a flip observation, it’s simply the truth and there’s no point in denying it.
Tougher Than The Rest
Arsène made no bones about the result. It was more important to win than to produce a 5* display in his view:
I would say we had plenty of chances we didn’t take. You could see that we wanted sometimes to force it a little bit, the fact that we didn’t score recently, the chances we had, played a little bit on our mind. But I would have loved it to have been a bit more comfortable on the scoreline but what was even more important was to get the three points and that’s what we did.
And that’s how it should be viewed: job done. We haven’t solved the problems brought about by the defeat to United, but we’ve taken a step closer to that. Alexandre Lacazette, hooked on 72 minutes, isn’t firing on all cylinders but is that a result of the team’s performances or confidence? An adjustment period or bewilderment at being the sacrificial lamb?
The second half of the season will give us the answers to that but for today, the waves of relief at three points are lapping the Arsenal shore.