After a tough away day in the Premier League, Arsenal rediscovered their winning mentality with a 2-0 victory against Newcastle.
After failing to win a league game this month, both Arsenal and Newcastle went into the match flying high at the top of their respective leagues. Arsenal’s Premier League status is more important for them in the absence of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who are suspended this week. Although Newcastle were just two points behind in the Premier League and six in the Championship, they struggled to catch Arsenal last season, so it was a win to celebrate at the Emirates.
That the win was achieved in style is particularly impressive. A goal in each half from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang kept the Gunners in the hunt for fourth spot in the Premier League table. Here are five things we learned during Arsenal’s win.
5. Laurent Koscielny is back.
Laurent Koscielny has had his fair share of close calls this season, but the Arsenal captain almost managed to avoid a serious injury just last week. Wenger took a gamble with his captain, and it paid off. Although his injury was not as bad as he had expected, Koscielny was ruled out for four weeks. But the veteran defender was back in the heart of defense on Sunday afternoon and, surprisingly, picked up an injury at the same time as playing. Just a minor scare, though, after missing out on the weekend against Crystal Palace, and Koscielny had to be carried off in the 55th minute of the match. But with the Frenchman playing such a key role in his side, Arsenal would certainly prefer him back sooner rather than later.
4. Arsenal are still learning their XIs.
Considering Arsenal’s difficulties at the back over the past year, manager Arsene Wenger has also had to be very cautious. However, this is beginning to show signs of switching from caution to aggression and rotation. At times last season, Arsenal’s defense appeared lackadaisical, which ultimately helped cost them the title. Considering the mounting injuries at the back, with Koscielny and Gabriel Martinelli missing out against Newcastle and Rob Holding forced to come on, it was a rare sign of hope at the back for Arsenal’s young defenders. With Mesut Ozil, Francis Coquelin and even Shkodran Mustafi all struggling at the start of the season, Wenger’s team have been a different side of late. With the injuries, Arsene Wenger has rarely been able to come up with an absolute certainty at the back, which has frustrated the Gunners. Considering Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will miss their next couple of matches, Arsenal’s looks likely to get even closer to their play for the season.
3. Gunners will not concede from open play.
Arsenal may have an injury crisis at the back, but they are still excellent at clearing up any situation that comes their way. In the opening minutes against Newcastle, the Magpies should have scored from a corner, with a rushed header to Maitland-Niles missing everyone and finishing right in the middle of goal. Even with the far-post clear, the defender just couldn’t clear the ball. For the remainder of the game, Newcastle couldn’t find a way past Arsenal’s defense and, the fact that they managed only two shots tells you much about the manner in which Arsenal’s defense works. Midway through the second half, Arsenal were level as a result of a soft penalty for the Magpies, but Newcastle didn’t manage another shot on target the rest of the way. The Gunners had only been credited with one goal from open play this season prior to the win, and after their win over Newcastle, that total will rise.
2. Chris Hughton has his work cut out for him.
Arsenal’s first clean sheet in 20 league games may have earned them the victory, but it should make Brighton manager Chris Hughton a frustrated man. Brighton looked wonderful at times in their 3-1 victory against Manchester United on Boxing Day. However, they were similarly impressive at the Emirates Stadium, where they scored a solitary goal in the first half through Dale Stephens. On Sunday, Stephens came onto the pitch having scored twice in Brighton’s last two matches. However, it was just good luck for the home side that Sunderland conceded again with just 20 minutes left on the clock, as Glenn Murray took advantage. Brighton have been able to mount great comebacks recently, but they will need to carry that momentum into their next match