After a disheartening draw at home against Liverpool, Arsenal travelled up north in search of all three points with a tough challenge on their hands.
Newcastle were still looking for their first win of the campaign, having drawn two and lost one from their opening three fixtures – the last of which was a robust goal-less draw away at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
Arsenal started brightly, as per usual, and were unlucky not to grab a two-goal cushion within the first 15 minutes. Hector Bellerín’s smart pass into the box fed the run of Theo Walcott, but his effort was thwarted by the quick reactions of Tim Krul who rushed off his line to quell the danger.
Then, just a few minutes later, the referee Andre Marriner had a big decision to make. Bellerín accelerated towards the byline but Florent Thauvin clearly trod on the Spaniard’s heel, not getting anywhere near the ball. It was a blatant penalty, but Marriner pointed for a goal-kick instead much to the frustration of Arsenal fans everywhere.
The tackles started flying in from Steve McClaren’s side, as they did a good job in frustrating the Gunners at every opportunity. Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has endured a tough start to life in the English top flight, was given his marching orders for a rash studs-up tackle on Francis Coquelin – for which he could have no complaints.
Chancel Mbemba and Thauvin were both booked in quick succession as the home supporters did their best to make a raucous atmosphere inside St. James’ Park, before Walcott missed a golden opportunity to break the deadlock from close range.
Alexis Sánchez’s venomous effort was swerving low towards the bottom corner, but for a good initial save from Krul. The ball sat up nicely for the 26-year-old, who somehow squandered the chance as it floated over the crossbar.
Arsenal continued to dominate possession and pass their way around the pitch looking for the opener, which failed to materalise in the first-half.
After the break though, they finally got their reward.
Some neat build-up play on the flank allowed the visitors to get forward at speed, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s strike goalwards flicked off Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini into the bottom corner of the net giving Krul no chance.
Bellerín’s speed was emphasised once again after he did well to sweep up the danger as Thauvin and Georginio Wijnaldum combined in midfield on the break, but the youngster was alert to the threat posed and cleared his lines.
Newcastle struggled to create much going forward, and when they did have a half-chance, it was effectively dealt with. Arsenal had found the breakthrough they needed, and could sit back with their one-goal lead, but kept up their probing runs in the final third.
Aaron Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sánchez in particular, were a real handful to contend with as the hosts found themselves virtually pinned back in their own half.
The clock was ticking, and changes were made by both sides. Giroud and Arteta were introduced, neither of which made much impact as they were solely focused on maintaining their slender lead.
Krul was instrumental in helping his side to stay in the match with quite a few smart saves, but his team-mates failed to really pose any questions of the Arsenal backline, despite having ten-men.
In the end, Arsenal took the points.
Deserved, yes. Impressive, not particularly.
Job done, but even so we still need a world-class striker. That much is certain.