Happy trails

The Observer - Sport - - Football Premier League -

per­spi­ra­tion. If Emery’s in­tro­duc­tion of Lu­cas Tor­reira helped Ar­se­nal get a be­lated grip on midfi eld, Xhaka’s stun­ning free- kick changed the nar­ra­tive en­tirely, pref­ac­ing an im­por­tant – and judg­ing by Emery’s body lan­guage, stress- bust­ing – win.

With an el­e­gant swipe of a Swiss boot, the harsh glare of the Premier League spot­light had switched to Benítez and his New­cas­tle side’s haul of only one point from fi ve games. That equals the team’s record bad start un­der Ruud Gul­lit in 1999- 2000, but 19 years on, no one ex­pects Benítez, whose side have al­ready faced four of the di­vi­sion’s top six, to em­u­late Gul­lit by re­sign­ing. “We’re not happy, but I’m not con­cerned be­cause I know my team re­ally well,” said New­cas­tle’s man­ager. “We’ve been close, but now we have to make the dif­fer­ence in the fi nal third.”

Emery agreed it had been a chameleon- style Ar­se­nal per­for­mance. “In the fi rst half, we couldn’t con­trol the match,” he ac­knowl­edged. “We couldn’t im­pose our ideas and we con­ceded a lot of counter at­tack­ing chances. The key was the fi rst goal, but maybe Lu­cas gave us bet­ter bal­ance.”

Early- sea­son top- tier sta­tis­tics in­di­cate that no goal­keeper has been more in­volved with his feet than Petr Cech but, de­spite this win, Emery’s com­mit­ment to play­ing out from the back re­mains a work in progress. Ac­cord­ingly, Cech and his de­fence fre­quently looked hes­i­tant as New­cas­tle bom­barded their box. Ar­se­nal have won con­sec­u­tive Premier League away games for the fi rst time since May 2017.

Benítez has a habit of ap­proach­ing games against the di­vi­sion’s elite with ex­treme cau­tion but, here, he made a rad­i­cal tac­ti­cal de­par­ture that re­sulted in his un­usu­ally ag­gres­sive side har­ry­ing their visi­tors out of pos­ses­sion by press­ing them high up the pitch and rudely in­ter­rupt­ing their goal­keeper’s ef­forts to ini­ti­ate those pa­tient build ups. In marked con­trast, Benítez’s side have played more long balls than any­one in the di­vi­sion – Neil Warnock’s Cardiff in­cluded – and have en­joyed the least pos­ses­sion of any team.

Such no- frills di­rect­ness has, so far, hardly paid div­i­dends, yet with the deci­bel level ris­ing ev­ery time Me­sut Özil was bun­dled un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously off the ball, it ini­tially seemed the ideal way to thor­oughly faze Ar­se­nal. Yet, although Ja­cob Murphy’s div­ing header forced Cech into a splen­did save, it tellingly rep­re­sented the clos­est ei­ther side came to scor­ing dur­ing an open­ing half punc­tu­ated by the lack of a killer fi nal ball. Murphy p y fre­quently ac­cel­er­ated be­hind Héc­tor Bellerín but he and his team team- mates lacked the nec­es­sary subtlety to cap­i­talise.

Repr Re­prieved, Emery re­placed Mat­téo Guen­douzi with Lu­cas in the midfi el eld hold­ing role and, shortly af­terwa af­ter­wards, all Benítez’s home­work – and his h team’s hard work – went to wast waste, as Fed­erico Fernán­dez fouled Pierre- P Em­er­ick Aubameyang and Xhaka Xh stepped for­ward to curl a free kick k , which Martin Dubrav ka touched but could not hold, into the top righ right cor­ner from dis­tance.

The time t had come for the sud­den sud­denly infl uen­tial Özil, lib­er­ated by Luca Lu­cas’s ar­rival, to si­lence his doubters. When Alexandre La­cazette’s shot was blocked, the re­bound fell for the Ger­man to ap­ply the fi nish­ing touch.

New­cas­tle were un­able to sus­tain their early en­ergy. They could eas­ily have fallen fur­ther be­hind be­fore Clark’s stop­page- time header af­forded the score­line a sem­blance of re­spectabil­ity, but pro­vided zero Ge­ordie con­so­la­tion.

New­cas­tle 4- 2- 3- 1

Ar­se­nal 4- 2- 3- 1

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.