Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang capitalised on Newcastle debutant Jetro Willems’ confusion to produce the decisive goal at St James’ Park on Sunday, despite Arsenal fielding a weakened eleven.
None of the Gunners summer arrivals were given a start, though both Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe made their debuts off the bench. As well as this, Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac were not available due to ongoing concerns over their safety.
After Ainsley Maitland-Niles burst onto a loose pass and surged forwards, Newcastle were left on the back foot. Aubameyang was given acres of space to receive the 21-year-olds cross and delicately place the ball over the onrushing Martin Dubravka.
Steve Bruce may feel slightly disappointed his new side were unable to salvage a point as Jonjo Shelvey hit the post, but Arsenal were the better team even without some of their brightest stars.
Can Aubameyang go one better?
Last season Aubameyang finished as the Premier League’s joint-top scorer with Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah on 22 goals. The Gabonese striker will have been delighted to get off the mark on the opening day of the campaign and he will no doubt be crucial to the Gunners hopes of securing a place in next seasons Champions League. Since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund, the striker has been responsible for 32% of all Arsenal’s Premier League goals and already looks likely to top score for them again this campaign.
Aubameyang’s movement was nothing short of sensational on Sunday. Not even a torrent of rain could prevent him from running the Newcastle defence ragged to create space for his teammates. As for his goal, Aubameyang managed to silently drift in behind Jamaal Lascelles, control Maitland-Niles cross and pop the ball over Dubravka effortlessly. From the moment he was given space in the box there was no doubt where the ball would end up.
On a personal level, his aim this season should be to better last terms 22 goals and claim the golden boot for himself.
Will Nelson, Willock and Maitland-Niles keep their places?
Arsenal fielded two teenagers in the Premier League for the first time since 1998 at St James’ Park and neither Reece Nelson or Joe Willock were born then. Neither lasted the full 90 minutes, though both performed admirably and showed they deserved their chance.
While other sides such as Manchester United and Chelsea have been highlighted for their youthful approach, Arsenal have slipped under the radar in recent seasons. Unai Emery showed on Sunday that he has plenty of young talent he can elevate to regular first-team contention. Nelson will have learned plenty on loan under the innovative Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim last season, and it will be exciting to see the blisteringly fast teenager transfer those experiences to the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Ainsley Maitland-Niles made 16 appearances for Arsenal last season, and after a man of the match performance against Newcastle will be looking to impose his authority on the right-back position. He showed exceptional awareness to intercept at pace and assist the only goal of the game, expect to see his name on the team sheet more frequently this term.
Can Emery secure Champions League football?
Arsenal are about to enter their third consecutive season without Champions League football, having previously competed for the competition for 19 seasons in a row. Though in fairness to Emery he could hardly have come closer to changing that in his opening campaign by finishing fifth in the Premier League and runner up in the Europa League.
Arsenals summer has been an incredibly mixed one. Losing their captain Laurent Koscielny in less than ideal circumstances and the attacks on Ozil and Kolasinac meant the mood could have been dour. Though somehow, possibly due to some astute summer arrivals, the atmosphere in North London appears to be incredibly upbeat. If Emery can keep his squad both happy and motivated, they should not be underestimated to go one better and finish as top four contenders.
Can Bruce unite fans?
Meanwhile, the mood in Newcastle could scarcely be more different. Even by the Magpies standards fans seem confused about the summer’s activities. The beloved Rafael Benitez is gone, stating the board did not share his ambition and the appointment of Steve Bruce appeared to confirm that. However, the signings of Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin vastly contradict Benitez’s statement.
It appears, somehow, the fanbase is now not even able to unite in its loathing of the owner. Multiple Mike Ashley protest were planned, though none of which gained significant traction. Around 100 fans made the march from Sports Direct to St James’ Park before the game, and the boycott planned for inside the stadium saw only 4,000 less than average attend.
Either way, Bruce was unable to prevent Newcastle from failing to win on the opening day of the Premier League for the sixth consecutive occasion. Begging the question, as chaos continues to surround Newcastle, has much tangibly changed? Only time will tell.
First impressions of Newcastle’s arrivals
Joelinton, making his first start since joining Newcastle for a club-record fee, showed promise with a courageous display that lacked a little finesse, but did cause problems. Callum Chambers and Sokratis will hardly be the sternest defensive partnership he is forced to play against this season. Though there were signs of promise from the striker as he slalomed two defenders to get the home crowd off their feet. Unfortunately, the finish did not test Bernd Leno as much as it should have done. Alongside him, Almiron worked equally tirelessly, and if the pair can form a potent partnership, then defences will fear the duo.
Saint-Maximin was bright and highly engaging when he made a late entrance to proceedings. Despite some impressive footwork, he was also unable to test Leno after creating an opportunity himself.
On Saturday Newcastle travel to Carrow Road to face newly promoted Norwich City, while Arsenal host Burnley in the early kick-off.