In a delightful afternoon of football, Arsenal smashed Newcastle 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
The win was the Gunners‘ first victory in the Premier League since beating Manchester United on New Year’s Day. Since then they have drawn four straight league games (and won twice in the FA Cup) and looked quite disappointing.
The positivity of Mikel Arteta’s first few games, where he very clearly improved things, had given way to much of the same old frustrations at the club.
This game against Newcastle, who have a recent victory over Chelsea to their name, was cause for concern. The way the Gunners played in the first-half would have only increased that concern, as they looked listless and were too easily contained by the Magpies. They had all of the ball (67.6% possession in the first-half) but could do little with it.
They needed a hero to step up and provide some thrust to their play, to get the ball forward quickly and accurately enough to create pressure that would actually force Newcastle’s defence into mistakes. It didn’t look like being Mesut Ozil, Nicolas Pepe or even Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – they all seemed to be waiting on someone else to solve their problems.
Luckily for them, someone else did.
Dani Ceballos has had a really strange time of it on loan at Arsenal. At first he appeared to be central to anything Unai Emery was planning, but then a muscle injury ruled him out from early November until recently. He has spent the last few games on the bench but didn’t look like featuring, to the point where he had been commenting on his future.
But Arteta gave him the start on Sunday, and even though his first-half wasn’t the greatest he was the key feature in Arsenal‘s improved second-half perofrmance. The Spaniard began picking the ball up in the middle third but instead of dawdling on it he would drive it forward with great speed, occasionally flipping it over the Newcastle defenders but often just driving it to the aforementioned forwards,this instantly unsettled Newcastle as it prevented them from getting into shape before Arsenal were already in their final third.
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It was from one driven pass forward by Ceballos that allowed Pepe to go one-on-one and easily cut inside (where a second marker came back belatedly) to cross the ball to Aubameyang where the Arsenal captain headed home superbly. Newcastle’s resolve was broken by a moment of quick decisive attacking play with Ceballos at the heart of it.
From there, Arsenal were in total control. They began to rip Newcastle open with greater ease. Pepe made it 2-0 after fantastic work from Bukayo Saka on the left-flank and although the Magpies then struck the post, when Arsenal made it 3-0 and then 4-0 in stoppage time it felt right for the way the second-half had gone. It was one-way traffic.
Others took the glory as the game opened up, but what should not be forgotten is that the man who opened it up was Ceballos. Deployed deeper in a double pivot, Ceballos was able to use the full range of his skill-set, getting involved with tackling, dribbling and passing.
Arsenal have kept back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League for the first time this season.
Arteta is at the wheel. 🚗 pic.twitter.com/71pTg1DjIg
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 16, 2020
He is a player who can be trusted by Arteta with the responsibility to run the Arsenal midfield and the exact player the Gunners have been begging for since Arteta took over. They didn’t need to dip into the market to get him, because he was already there. He can be Arsenal’s first true midfield general since Cesc Fabregas (Arteta and Santi Cazorla were good but for various reasons were not as dominant as Fabregas).
Sunday’s victory lifts Arsenal back into the top half of the Premier League table again and, crucially, back into positive goal difference too. Alright, they’re still only 10th and the goal difference is only +2, but they have been slowly improving ever since Arteta took over and with Ceballos in the heart of midfield controlling the tempo of games as he did against Newcastle, don’t rule out a winning run that sees the Gunners fire up the table.