I know there Will be those out there saying “it’s only Newcastle” and given that Newcastle are in a bit of turmoil themselves I know it was hardly the most difficult of starts for us to kick off our campaign yesterday afternoon in the north east, but I was delighted with yesterday’s win in so many ways.
Firstly, to those players that stepped in, because let’s face it that was very much a makeshift Arsenal starting XI. If you think about what our best probable XI could look like in a month or twos time you’d probably say Bellerin, Luiz, Tierney/Kolasinac, Torreira, Ceballos, Lacazette and Pepe could all feature. That’s eight players who weren’t in the starting line up named by Emery and I haven’t even included Özil in there, who I just don’t know how much he will play this season, hence not naming him yet.
Make no bones about it, we had one heck of a task getting three points up at St James’ Park and to the credit of some of those youngsters they did the job.
Newcastle were no great shakes by any stretch of the imagination but they set up not to concede and as I’d thought they would do they went long as much as they could to try and trouble our back line. Thankfully the performances of Chambers, Sokratis, Bellerin and Monreal were enough, although I think Monreal did look a little ropey at times. Maitland-Niles had his moments too yesterday, but his recovery pace and athleticism gets him out of any pickles he finds himself in and the result of that is that when he makes a mistake it’s always recoverable.
He also contributes further up the pitch and his part he played in the goal in the second half cannot be understated. He was brilliant in telegraphing the pass, he got there way ahead of the Newcastle winger, then absolutely belted off down the pitch before putting in a perfect cross for Auba. It was exactly what you want to see from Maitland-Niles and his impact in that goal will give him lots of confidence.
And then to Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang who, without his usual strike part/bezzie-mate Lacazette on the pitch, had to lead the line and did it superbly. His first touch to bring the ball down was quality and his second to flick it over the onrushing Dubravka was as defy as you’ll see all season. That’s what you get when you pay big money for players like that and in a game where we didn’t get hundreds of chances, you need your centre forwards to sniff out goals. He did and the result is a win on the first game of the season.
We can rightly be happy with the result and I’m over the moon that we won with so many players out, but I do need to temper my enthusiasm because it was hardly the most swashbuckling of performances in the main. You could tell Newcastle wanted to frustrate and that’s something we knew we had to deal with, but we hardly stretched them about the pitch. That’s what you want from your wide forwards and whilst Nelson gets a bit of a pass as he finds his place in this Arsenal squad, he was ok and decent on the ball, but hardly electric in terms of getting out wide and stretching the Newcastle defence.
I looked at the average position of the starting XI on an app I have on my phone and both Nelson and Mkhitaryan were very narrow. That was a problem last season so I’m hoping that Emery says something to them both because we need to have more width and less of the narrowness that congested everything last season.
Like I say, Nelson gets a pass, but Mkhitaryan doesn’t. He was woeful yesterday. Giving the ball away, overhit passes, under-hit passes, blazing chances wildly over. I’m sorry to say this folks but he is absolutely a busted flush. With the wages he’s on he should be the catalyst for driving the team forward but all I see is a broken player who, if we could move on, should be one of the first out the door.
It’s a shame too because as I’ve said so many times I wanted him so badly from Dortmund but the player we have now is nowhere near the level that guy was and all we have left is a ghost of his former self. Pepe can hopefully come in and take that wide forward role because Mkhi isn’t delivering. He didn’t deliver last season either and it’s time we got rid, of only we could get rid.
I’ll not end today’s blog on a sour note though because we’re up and running in the Premier League. We have Burnley visiting next weekend and hopefully we’ll see one or two of the players who were unavailable today come back and we can start to see the bones of a team that could have us challenging for top four again.
Catch you all tomorrow.