Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0. The Gunners went into St. James’ Park, a place the Magpies had lost one match all season, and showed why they’re (now) 16 points clear. When Newcastle tried to actually play football, unlike they did at the Emirates, Arsenal thoroughly outplayed them. When they tried to kick Arsenal off the pitch, the Gunners kept their cool and didn’t back down. It was a complete win and one of the best Arsenal performances of the season.
And it was a team win. Everybody in red worked themselves to exhaustion on both sides of the ball. Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli both won a season-high number of tackles. Saka had the most on-ball defensive actions of any Arsenal player. Gabriel Jesus ran down Kieran Trippier from 40 yards away. Granit Xhaka ran the length of the pitch to put in a critical sliding block on Joe Willock that surely saved a goal. Aaron Ramsdale made several massive saves (and got a bit of help from his posts) to keep a clean sheet. Jakub Kiwior looks a real footballer, another incredibly solid performance.
Jorginho deserves special mention. You hardly notice him on the pitch, but he controls the flow of the game and the ball in a way that Thomas Partey hasn’t done in weeks, perhaps months. Saliba’s health aside, the biggest “what if” of the season, is going to be “what if Mikel Arteta had trusted Jorginho more” to bring him on against Liverpool and use him against West Ham and Southampton. The control he might have exerted on the matches probably makes the difference in the results and keeps the Gunners first in the table.
To be fair to Mikel Arteta, his 60th minute swap of Kieran Tierney for Alex Zinchenko was a difference-maker in the match. Newcastle were exposing the Arsenal left and looked likely to score an equalizer down that flank. Not only did Tierney shut down that side, he was part of the buildup to the second goal that helped put the match out of reach.
Newcastle are a brutal football team. Their midfield and defenders run around the pitch clobbering people. They’ve never seen an opponent who just released a ball they didn’t want to clatter. I’m hesitant to accuse players of intending to injure opponents, but my goodness, Bruno Guimaraes’ rake down Bukayo Saka’s Achilles off the ball and Fabian Schar’s vicious blow to Gabriel Jesus’ head, demonstrate, at the very least, a wanton disregard for the health and safety of opposing players.
Chris Kavanaugh’s permissive and passive refereeing, where he seemed to be influenced time and again by the home support, didn’t help things. Matches get increasingly physical and violent when the referee doesn’t take control early, and Kavanaugh neither asserted himself nor set the tone. Full credit to Arsenal, though. They didn’t back down. Granit Xhaka, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah, and others stood their ground while also not allowing themselves to be goaded into foolish retaliation nor did they let the emotions of the moment get them off their game.
People love to say that Arsenal have a soft underbelly, that they “don’t like it up ‘em” on the pitch. The Gunners went toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow with one of the most physical sides in the Premier League, who’ve been really good at their home ground this year. As I said earlier, Arsenal outplayed Newcastle when they tried to actually play football. And when Newcastle tried to bully Arsenal off the pitch, that failed as well.
The bottom line is today’s match was as plain a statement as you could want: Arsenal are well clear of Newcastle and comfortably the second-best side in the Premier League. The Gunners’ stubborn refusal to let that disappointing blip turn into a season-tarnishing slide to close out the year is a fantastic sign of growth and mettle from this still-young side. Arsenal have three more matches to go. They’ve got to win them all and get some help.