Sunday’s win at Newcastle put a major marker down for Arsenal in terms of big game performances on an incredibly tough ground.
Only Liverpool had won at St James’ this season, and Arsenal had horrible memories from last season, when a disjointed team were completely exposed and beaten 2-0, however Sunday was a different story.
The win not only showed that Arsenal could cope with a hostile atmosphere, but cope against an extremely physical side and manage the game without getting sucked into a physical battle that we likely would have lost.
That maturity became very clear after Newcastle’s penalty was overturned by VAR, and Arsenal settled into the game, with Granit Xhaka playing closer to Jorginho than in the advanced left eight role, creating a double pivot which really protected the team against Newcastle’s dynamic trio.
This was the first time this season that we have seen Arteta change his system and go to a 4-3-2-1, showing improvements in his game management and ability to adapt to the opposition, which is something he has been criticized for this season.
The added protection allowed Arsenal to play through the Newcastle press, and contain them at crucial periods, which led to them kicking out in frustration on numerous occasions, and making challenges that would have received cards on another day.
But, the ref let those antics go, and tried to let the game flow, which was arguably a poor call given that Gabriel Jesus took an elbow to the jaw from Fabian Schar, which wasn’t deemed worthy of a card, however karma kicked in and he scored an own goal to take the game out of Newcastle’s reach.
Thankfully Arsenal didn’t rise to this, and instead used their aggression as an opportunity to waste time, and take the sting out of the game by stay down when fouled, which is something that we haven’t seen from the team before.
It showed a sign of maturity from a side who have been naive in winning situations over the last month, and it came as no surprise that it was Jorginho, Xhaka and Jesus leading this tactic, bringing their wealth of experience into the game.
Most importantly, what this game showed is that Arsenal are not going to roll over in an intimidating ground to a team trying to kick them off the pitch.
For too long, teams have used this tactic against Arsenal, and players have buckled under pressure, but we now have characters in the side who embrace this side of the game, and it will take more than a few kicks to keep them down.