Arsenal eventually sailed to a 2-0 victory over Newcastle at the Emirates on Saturday as Gabriel Martinelli staked his claim and Bukayo Saka was forced off with an injury.
It proved to be a frustrating first half for the Gunners in north London, with Aaron Ramsdale once again bailing his team out with a top save from Jonjo Shelvey’s long-range effort before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang somehow missed from a few yards out.
After Martin Dubravka sprang up to make a top stop from Emile Smith Rowe’s header not long before half-time, the ball dropped to Aubameyang with the majority of his goal at his mercy, but the captain couldn’t convert the gilt-edged chance.
Arsenal’s academy graduate Saka once again produced the goods in the second half to give the Gunners their lead as he finished a fine move involving him, Smith Rowe and Nuno Tavares.
In a potential blow for Mikel Arteta ahead of his side’s meeting with Manchester United next week, Saka was forced off with a muscular problem, with Gabriel Martinelli brought on his place.
A matter of moments after coming on, Martinelli volleyed home a Takehiro Tomiyasu lofted through ball to wrap up the win in style.
Although the Premier League’s bottom club Newcastle struggled to cause the Gunners many problems, Arteta will have plenty to ponder on as his side bounced back from their 4-0 defeat to Liverpool last week.
Gabriel Martinelli stakes a claim
The Brazilian burst onto the scene in his first season at the Emirates, but since returning from a knee injury last season, he hasn’t been able to get back into the side on a regular basis.
Martinelli has been afforded opportunities in the Carabao Cup, but not quite done enough to warrant a start in the side ahead of the likes of Saka or Smith Rowe.
However, the 20-year-old once again proved why the Gunners fanbase have put so much stock into him as he produced a mesmeric moment to end Newcastle’s hopes of getting back into the game.
With a high ball floating over his head, Martinelli’s instincts kicked in as he expertly caressed Tomiyasu’s pass into the back of the net.
If Saka should be out for a period of time, Martinelli may feel aggrieved not to get more playing time over the hectic winter period.
Keeping Bukayo Saka fit is essential
The Star-Boy strikes again ð¤©Wonderful, quick passing move from Arsenal, lead by Saka and finished by Saka ðLovely goal ð¶ï¸ð¥ pic.twitter.com/sn35n6T16v— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 27, 2021
The game looked to be at a low ebb until Saka popped up with a driven finish from a tight angle to beat the impressive Dubravka.
The England international has been a shining light for the Gunners and keeping him fit and in shape is key if the Gunners harbour ambitions of a top-four finish.
Saka looked to be slightly off his game at the beginning of the campaign, which could be down to the sheer amount of games he has played for club and country.
But him and fellow academy graduate Smith Rowe are vital in attack for Arteta.
Striker upgrades required
Aubameyang’s miss may reignite the conversation about the need for Arsenal to go out and purchase a new striker.
The Gunners captain struggled to get into the game, as he did in last week’s defeat at Anfield, and didn’t showcase the improved work ethic he has displayed over recent weeks.
Both the Gabon international and Alexandre Lacazette were linked with exits from the club last summer, while the likes of Dusan Vlahovic of Fiorentina, Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez and Real Sociedad forward Alexander Isak have all reportedly been on the club’s radar.
Lacazette’s contract is up in the summer, and the Frenchman has admitted that his agents are exploring the possibility of a potential move away from north London, which could open the door for a new face at the Emirates.
Martin Odegaard slows the pace down
Martin Odegaard was brought in to play in the No.10 position as Lacazette dropped to the bench to face the Magpies.
But the Norwegian ended up dropping too deep to affect play and often took more touches on the ball than required.
That in turn slowed Arsenal’s play down with him on the ball and their counter-attacks subsequently lacked in conviction.
Odegaard had been absent for previous games due to an injury, while Lacazette was the preferred option with his energy and hold-up play behind Aubameyang.
Arteta may need to tweak his plans to get the best out of the £34million summer signing.
Mikel Arteta justified in sticking with Nuno Tavares
Arteta could’ve easily dropped Tavares for his error-strewn display at Anfield, especially given that Kieran Tierney was ready and waiting on the bench.
But the Spaniard clearly liked elements of what he saw from the left-back, and he displayed his bravery and attacking intent against Eddie Howe’s side.
Tavares was involved in the opening goal, linking up with Smith Rowe and playing the final ball for Saka’s strike.
After a first half including multiple shots which ballooned over the bar and beyond the post, the defender settled and helped push the team on from an attacking perspective after the break.
Though Tierney may well get back into the side in the coming weeks, Tavares is pushing the Scotland international all the way.