Arsenal beat Newcastle at home 2-0 to leapfrog Tottenham into third place in the Premier League. The Gunners, thanks to goals from Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette, registered a tenth straight win at the Emirates Stadium. The result allowed Arsenal to position themselves favourably in the race for the top four as we head into the final games of the season. Newcastle didn’t offer much themselves and Arsenal looked extremely comfortable over the 90 minutes.
Arsenal lined up in the familiar 3-4-3 formation that Emery has favoured over the past few games. The home side faced a couple of fitness issues as Laurent Koscielny and Granit Xhaka were unavailable. Lacazette led the attack as the sole striker owing to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s illness. On paper, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi lined up alongside the Frenchman as a part of the attacking trio. In midfield, Matteo Guendouzi started alongside Ramsey as Lucas Torreira was suspended as well. Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles continued as the preferred wing-backs. In defence, Sokratis and Nacho Monreal retained their places while Shkodran Mustafi played in place of Koscielny. Bernd Leno continued in goal.
For Newcastle, Rafa Benitez didn’t shake up the side too much as the Magpies lined up in a 5-4-1 formation. Salomon Rondon offered the physical presence up top with Ayoze Perez and Miguel Almiron tasked with bringing creativity. The starting eleven represented Newcastle’s intent to overload central areas of the pitch and starve the home side of space while conceding possession.
Keeping the form going
Arsenal picked up right from where they left off a couple of weeks ago and put in a dominant performance. The home side experienced 71 per cent of the possession, a stat which depicts how much Arsenal enjoyed possession but also represents Newcastle’s unwillingness to take risks or win possession back. The Gunners made 700 passes as compared to Newcastle’s 286. Unai Emery’s side looked fresh and alert right from the start, with a positive and crisp passing. This was nice to see as, in the past, Arsenal have struggled in matches that immediately follow an international break.
Arsenal played a high-line, holding Newcastle to their own half and preventing any early nerves from creeping in. There’s a good degree of familiarity coming into the side at the moment as the team selection is more constant. As the side settles into Emery’s tactics, players are more aware and comfortable with the roles they have to play. In this game, understanding the need for positivity, creative players like Ozil, Ramsey and Iwobi were given the freedom to wander from their positions.
As Newcastle attempted to crowd Arsenal’s midfield, this rotation became increasingly important as it dragged defenders out of position and created space for Arsenal to exploit. Ozil had a great game and the German was given a free rein for the entire duration of the match. Dropping between the Newcastle lines, Ozil picked up and moved the ball forward excellently. Whenever he had the ball, Arsenal would ensure that there was sufficient movement to open up spaces. The Magpies struggled to cope with Ramsey, Ozil and Iwobi’s movement, unsure whether to press or hold their position.
Another interesting tactic Arsenal utilized was to rotate Iwobi and Ozil frequently. As mentioned above, on paper, the duo were to start on either side of Lacazette but both dropped deeper and drifted inside more. This enabled the wing-backs to operate much higher up the pitch in the spaces vacated, a tactic which seems to have become very popular and potent for the Gunners. In a few games this season, we’ve seen Arsenal struggle to create when playing a three-man defence but Emery has corrected that issue by allowing much more freedom of movement and positioning among his attacking midfielders.
Lacazette and Ramsey star
Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey are arguably the hardest working players in this Arsenal side. Both are rated highly by Emery for their defensive work but their attacking ability cannot be understated. Arsenal are definitely going to miss Ramsey when he departs this summer. The Welshman’s skillset is so unique and the dynamism he brings to the side is bound to be really difficult to replace. Against Newcastle, he started in the double pivot but went on to take up his usual role of an attacking midfielder. Ramsey made 74 passes, attempted two tackles and had 87 touches, in addition to a well-taken goal.
Lacazette is a player who perhaps doesn’t get the praise he deserves. The French striker works his socks off every game and is a far better player in terms of his all-round ability than his strike partner Aubameyang. Lacazette has 15 goals and 11 assists this season in all competitions, impressive stats for a striker who’s role isn’t solely just to score goals. The pressing and tenacity Lacazette brings to the side is invaluable. One of the best characteristics of Lacazette’s game is his intelligent movement and ability to drag defenders out of position. While Aubameyang is a great poacher, Lacazette has the unique ability to bring his teammates into the game.
The win over Newcastle means that Arsenal were able to take advantage of Tottenham’s loss at Liverpool and move into third place. Given the fierce competition for the Champions League spots, Arsenal need to treat every league game like a cup final and have an important Europa League tie against Napoli on the horizon as well. Having said that, the Gunners are on a good run of form and did a professional job on Monday night. The side looks balanced and optimistic and hopefully can keep up this run of form.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Pre-order your copy of the March issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.