Xhaka’s fan­tas­tic free-kick rips heart out of New­cas­tle

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Luke Ed­wards at St James’ Park

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

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