Arsenal’s Saka, Martinelli See Off Winless Newcastle


Should this fixture be repeated next season, Newcastle may need some cajolement into making the journey. They have lost 11 straight games at the Emirates and on the basis of past performances and current form most elements of their latest reverse could confidently be predicted at the outset.

Arsenal were not especially convincing but ultimately proved too strong, scoring twice in the third quarter of the game, and once Bukayo Saka had put them ahead any doubts about the outcome were banished. Arsenal continue to tick off the lesser assignments and maintain designs on the top four, but the scale of Eddie Howe’s task is starkly laid out.

His debut in a Newcastle technical area was not an unqualified disaster and, in fairness, he oversaw a competent first-half display that could have even brought the lead. But Arsenal returned from the break in a palpably different gear and deserved the win their shift in tempo ensured, even if their opponents contrived a sense of injustice.

Shortly before Gabriel Martinelli made sure of the points, having only just come on, Callum Wilson had gone to ground under the attentions of Nuno Tavares. The pair had been shoulder to shoulder inside the box, Wilson failing to get a shot away, and the enduring impression was that Tavares had simply been too strong.

“The key moment has to be Callum going through one-on-one with a chance to equalise and a penalty’s not given,” Howe said, although he admitted he had only seen the incident in real time. “I can’t understand why Callum would go down there if it’s not a foul.”

After rewatching he might accept he was over-egging things, as he also was in calling Newcastle’s performances in the first and final thirds of the match “very good”.

That is understandable: Howe has not come to bury his new charges and knows confidence, which he said is low in a winless side, must be bolstered before a home match against Norwich on Tuesday that now assumes seismic proportions.

For the first 56 minutes Howe had paced and pointed energetically on the touchline, perhaps keen to make up for lost time after missing the draw with Brentford due to Covid. Newcastle had been compact enough but were punctured by the excellent Saka.

The goal was marvellously constructed, Saka receiving possession in a tight position on the left flank before finding Emile Smith Rowe and, while his teammate dealt with the ball, darting infield.

Smith Rowe passed to Tavares and the left-back, who was among the players Mikel Arteta felt “needed another chance” after a ropey performance at Liverpool, located the onrushing Saka with a deft right foot pass. The angle was tight, but perfect for a low-raking drive into the far corner; Saka produced exactly that and Arsenal had their breakthrough.

Saka hobbled off eight minutes later, Arteta saying he “felt something muscular” and may require a diagnostic scan. He was replaced by Martinelli and within 93 seconds the points were secure.

This time it was Takehiro Tomiyasu assisting intelligently with a chipped pass from the right: Martinelli watched it drop over his shoulder and then helped it past Martin Dubravka on the volley, scoring for the first time since May.

“A big moment and I am especially happy for him,” Arteta said. “The technique is so top, when the ball is flying over your head. To keep the ball down and have that quality to finish, it is impressive.”

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could watch and take note. The Arsenal captain had contrived an extraordinary miss before half-time, sidefooting against the post from point-blank range after Dubravka had saved Smith Rowe’s header.

It had looked harder not to score. His aberration met with bafflement and while it may be a discussion for another day it did little to dispel the nagging sense that Arsenal must expedite a succession plan for the centre-forward role.

Saka and Martin Ødegaard, the former set up by the impressive Albert Sambi Lokonga, also came close but Arteta accepted Arsenal had lacked “urgency and some composure” in the opening period.

Newcastle had fired a warning shot on the half-hour when Jonjo Shelvey, taking aim from 25 yards, forced Aaron Ramsdale to tip on to the bar. It was a more credible turning point than Howe’s penalty complaint.

“You achieve some remarkable things in football if you all believe and stay united,” Howe said.

Staying up would, at this rate, fit that definition and Newcastle will need that togetherness given few away from Tyneside will shed a tear over their struggles. Relegation would, at least, avert more of the same old fare in north London.