Oh man, did that one feel good. After an insipid opening 30 minutes against Newcastle at the Emirates, Arsenal looked well on its way to another disappointing draw or a bad loss. Granit Xhaka was on an early yellow, the attack wasn’t creating much of anything, and Allan Saint-Maximin was torching Hector Bellerin.
But the Gunners showed signs of life to close out the first half and came out for the second looking like a completely different team. Full marks to Mikel Arteta and the players for turning things around. The biggest change was in Dani Ceballos, who moved further up the pitch and started playing the ball vertically over/between the defenders. He created chances, and the added threat he provided opened up spaces in the Newcastle defense, particularly on the flanks.
It was Nicolas Pépé, the target of particular ire from the announcers and halftime studio commentators, who broke things open for the Gunners. He floated a cross for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to head home then scored one of his own less than three minutes later. And while Pépé finished the second goal, it was Bukayo Saka who made it. Saka split two defenders, nutmegging one, and played the perfect ball across for the Ivorian to smash home.
After taking a 2-0 lead, Arsenal were a bit fortunate to not have been pegged back at least one. Saint-Maximin thumped one off the post, although Bernd Leno may have had it covered if it were on frame, and Kieran Clark inexplicably shot wide from six yards out.
Other than those two chances, the Gunners played pretty well defensively. As noted, Saint-Maximin gave Bellerin fits, but the midfield and even Pépé and Aubameyang did a good job tracking back to help out. Bernd Leno made the one good save he had to, reacting well to palm a deflect shot wide.
Mesut Özil capped off a strong performance on the day with a goal in the 90th minute, his first in 25 matches. It was a near-vintage performance from Özil; he found those little pockets of space between the defenders to get on the ball, create chances, and control the flow. The only reason I’ve left it short of vintage is because he didn’t manage a dazzling assist. I’m a tough grader, I know.
But probably the most important goal of the match had the least influence on the result. Alexandre Lacazette scored in the 95th minute to break his 9-match goalless drought. You could see the relief and the joy in his ear-to-ear smile as he celebrated. Strikers are peculiar beasts — sometimes all they need to go on a scoring streak is to see the ball hit the back of net. What’s also encouraging is that Lacazette’s teammates seemed as happy for him as he was for himself; even the bench players ran down to the corner to join the dogpile.
Lacazette had replaced Eddie Nketiah, who was one of the few lowlights of the day for the Gunners. He wasn’t consistently involved in the attack, which isn’t great for a center forward, and he missed what the announcers deemed a sitter. I think the chance was a bit tougher than that, but he still probably should have scored. I’m fine to chalk his sub-par performance up to a young player making his Premier League debut and move on.
One player’s off day doesn’t take away from a great day for the team. Arsenal needed a win and they got one. Wins like this can spark runs. It feels like today might have been a turning point. Carrying momentum from today into Thursday’s Europa League match against Olympiacos would be great.