Xhaka’s fantastic free-kick rips heart out of Newcastle
When managers talk about the importance of scoring first, it can seem like an irrelevance, an excuse, a useless titbit of information passed on without any hard evidence to back it up. If you concede first, there is no reason why you should not still be able to equalise. Then you watch games like this.
Arsenal did not just take the lead when Granit Xhaka scored a sumptuous free-kick just after half-time, they ripped the heart out of Newcastle.
Until that moment, the home side had held their own in a tight, tactical battle. But once the ball left Xhaka’s boot and nestled in the top corner, the visitors dominated with a degree of ease that embarrassed those in black and white stripes. Ordinary for so long, Arsenal were transformed. Allowed to perform at their dazzling best, they danced their way through a bedraggled Newcastle midfield and repeatedly opened up a flimsy backline, shorn of captain Jamaal Lascelles, with an ankle injury, at half-time.
When the second goal went in, scored by the previously anonymous Mesut Ozil, nine minutes after the first, Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez was still trying to decide who to bring on from the bench to try and galvanise his side. He, like his team, looked stunned.
Although Ciaran Clark pulled a goal back in stoppage time, the defeat means Benitez has presided over Newcastle’s worst start to a Premier League season since Ruud Gullit was sacked at the same stage of the season a decade ago. It is worrying, but not quite a crisis, given the Magpies have played four of the Big Six in their opening five games.
“I’m not worried, it’s a difficult time, but I think everyone knew it could be like this because of the games we had at the start of the season,” said Benitez. “They scored with two moments of quality to change the game. It’s very hard when you concede against a team like Arsenal because they have so much quality on the counter.”
This was not a vintage Arsenal performance, but enough to secure a second successive away win and another big boost for manager Unai Emery. Arsenal were woeful on the road in Arsene Wenger’s final year and although there were causes for concern on Tyneside, they found a way to win and did so comfortably in the end.
The visitors barely landed a blow on Newcastle in the first half. They were sluggish, a team playing without urgency or clarity. Benitez’s men were not much better, but they probably shaded the exchanges before half-time.
Their former England Under-21 international Jacob Murphy might have got in a couple of times behind the Arsenal defence, although his best moment came when he headed a deep cross from DeAndre Yedlin back across goal, which Petr Cech did well to intercept with Joselu and Isaac Hayden ready to score behind him.
Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka did not have a save to make, Arsenal’s half was summed up when Aaron Ramsey wriggled free, but slipped and sliced a cross into the stands with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang un- marked at the far post. All to play for at the break, the contest was over as soon as Xhaka opened the scoring for Arsenal, before Ozil grabbed the second, a low shot squeezed beyond Dubravka after the initial effort from the lively Alexandre Lacazette had been blocked.
Newcastle could well have conceded again, but Arsenal eased off, allowing their hosts a late rally that saw Cech make a good save to deny Joselu before Clark’s late consolation.
“The first-half, we could not control the match like we wanted,” admitted Emery. “In the second half, the balance was better. Our positioning was better and our transitions.
“With the first goal it gave us the confidence to continue improving and imposing our game. I think the second goal finished the match.”
On target: Mesut Ozil celebrates scoring Arsenal’s second goal with Hector Bellerin