As you probably know already, Arsenal beat Newcastle United at St. James Park on Saturday by 1-2, courtesy of a spectacular free-kick by Granit Xhaka and a cool finish by Mesut Ozil. After defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea in the two opening games, West Ham, Cardiff City, and now Newcastle have fallen in a row. But this game had some nice surprises in store in terms of individual performances.
First of all, the back line, consisting once again of Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, actually played a decent game. The biggest improvements were shown by the two players recently criticized probably more than the rest of the team combined and not without reason – Sokratis and Bellerin. Unlike in previous games, the Greek centre-back was very good. He put in successful tackles, he won headers, he made clearances, and he even showed loads of composure when taking the ball forward. The player who seemed so far the miss of the transfer window looked anything but that against the Magpies.
Like Sokratis, it was nice to see Bellerin do some actual defending, as opposed to always staying far up the pitch and getting caught out of position. Monreal was his usual unspectacular self, and Mustafi looked quite good too. Petr Cech was also nicely composed, never complicating matters and dealing with various situations smartly.
Xhaka was also much criticized for insipid, bordering on invisible, performances in the first four games. However, quite apart from scoring a stunning goal to give the Gunners the lead, he was much more noticeable. He moved much more, he played smart, he fought, and he didn’t get dispossessed once for the entire game. For once he looked a more experienced and more complete player than Matteo Guendouzi, which he actually is but had failed to show it before.
Mesut Ozil has been mostly criticized for his work-rate. Well, it’s safe to say he worked really hard at St. James Park, often dropping a long way back to ask for the ball, picking it up and working to create things further up. In fact, he was arguably the best player on the pitch, capping off an excellent performance with a goal, while Lacazette and Aubameyang continue to show they can play well together.
If Emery’s men can find a way to build on this performance, the season should be much more interesting for Arsenal fans than it looked before.