A wonderful volley from Mesut Ozil gave a wasteful Arsenal three points against Newcastle.
Arsenal made just one change from the team that bored us all at West Ham, as Alexandre Lacazette came back into the side for Olivier Giroud. Arsenal stuck with the back four, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles continuing at left back in place of Sead Kolasinac. Jack Wilshere got his second Premier League start in a row. Alex Iwobi kept his place on the right of the attack.
Newcastle’s featured a number of young players, including former Arsenal midfielder Isaac Hayden. He started alongside Mikel Merino in midfield. On the flanks were the pacey duo of Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy. Up front, Ayoze Perez and Joselu had just four Premier League goals between them.
Arsenal had their first shot on target when Lacazette and Maitland-Niles exchanged passes before the Frenchman tried his luck from distance. He got good power on it, but hit it straight at the Newcastle keeper. At the other end, some sloppy work from Laurent Koscielny and Granit Xhaka gave Newcastle a free-kick. It was floated in for Mikel Merino to head and force Petr Cech into a save.
The game quickly settled into the usual Emirates pattern. Arsenal probed a deep Newcastle defence and pressed quickly to win the ball back whenever Newcastle got a touch of the ball. One move managed to find Lacazette with plenty of space on the left hand side. His right-footed shot was blocked and dropped into the path of Bellerin in the box. The Spaniard, though, was unable to steer an effort on goal.
Eleven minutes gone, Arsenal had their best chance so far. Ozil and Bellerin combined on the edge of the Newcastle box. The German fed the ball into Lacazette, who then shifted the ball to his left for Alexis to strike first time. Unfortunately, he got under the ball and put it well over. A minute later, Maitland-Niles stole the ball on the halfway line, charged through the middle of the Newcastle team and drove a low shot from outside the area into the side-netting.
By the twenty minute mark, Arsenal were having all of the game in Newcastle’s half and were looking to pop the ball about quickly. Despite the good tempo to their play, Rob Elliot remained untested in the Newcastle goal.
The breakthrough arrived 23 minutes in.
Jack Wilshere got away in midfield and ran at the Newcastle defence. He played in Iwobi down the right hand side, who fired the ball into the box. The ball evaded Wilshere, but found Alexis coming at the far post. His shot ricocheted into the air. He chased it and managed to head it back to Ozil near the edge of the box. Going backwards, Ozil somehow managed to volley the ball into the far corner.
It was stupendous technique from a wonderful player.
Arsenal were in confident mood and finding plenty of space on the left hand side. Alexis received the ball and cut inside, as he always does. He lofted a trademark pass for Bellerin, who was free down the right. Rather than fizz it across goal, Bellerin opted for a first time volley on his left, and put it hopelessly over the bar. It seemed the team had the taste for worldie goals today, as a patient passing move half hour in came to end when Xhaka drilled a shot just wide of the post.
37 minutes gone, Arsenal created another good opening. Ozil picked the ball up in space and played a delicate pass to Lacazette on the edge of the box. Lacazette returned the pass. Ozil found himself in the box, but his touch took him away from goal, and he was unable to get a shot on target. On the stroke of half-time, Alexis picked the ball up on the edge of the box, but his snap shot trickled wide of the post.
That was the final chance of a good half for Arsenal. Newcastle were showing little threat, and Arsenal were well in control of proceedings.
The second half started where the first left off. Arsenal were comfortable playing in Newcastle’s half but still not creating many meaningful opportunities. Rafa Benitez responded by bringing on Matt Ritchie for Christian Atsu. Ritchie had Newcastle’s first shot in a while. Arsenal made a mess of clearing their lines and the ball rolled invitingly to the winger. Fortunately, he put shot well over the bar. Moments later, Murphy wriggled free of two Arsenal players on the left hand side and tested Cech with a good shot.
Arsenal could have extended their lead on the hour mark. Monreal beat Hayden in the air high up the pitch. The ball dropped to Iwobi, who slipped in Lacazette. Rather than smash it across the keeper, he opted for the lob and put it harmlessly over the bar. It would have been spectacular had it come off, but it ended up being surprisingly wasteful from the Frenchman.
The game wasn’t done yet, and Arsenal were getting a bit sloppy. Iwobi managed to dance around a couple of challenges, but got no power on his shot. Perhaps sensing a chance to get back into the game, Benitez took off Murphy and put on a striker in Dwight Gayle.
With twenty minutes left to play, Wenger made his customary substitutions. Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud came on for a limping Alex Iwobi and unhappy Alexandre Lacazette. The changes nearly paid off immediately. Alexis clipped the ball in for Giroud, who, on the stretch, nodded the ball into the path of Wilshere. He hit it first time, but Elliot managed to smother the shot.
Approaching the final ten minutes, Newcastle came forward. Gayle held the ball up well and played the ball to Joselu. The Spanish striker’s shot came off Koscielny and went just wide of the post. The visitors then had half-chance when Perez received the ball in the box, but put his shot well wide. Yet another chance came their way. Ritchie swung in an excellent cross, but Perez headed it wide. Having slept through most of the second half, Arsenal were suddenly coming under pressure.
With two minutes to go, Alexis Sanchez was replaced by Francis Coquelin. 1-0 was enough for Wenger and they were going to protect it.
We managed to get through four minutes of added time without much incident to get our first win since the defeat to Manchester United.