It would be fair to say that it wasn’t Arsenal’s most polished display against Newcastle yesterday, but it got the job done. Considering the number of absentees, it was surprising how well the Gunners coped at St James’ Park.
Of course, the home side had their own issues, with fan unrest and an unpopular new manager, but still, it was a professional performance from the players. Here are three things we learned from the 1-0 win on the opening day:
1) There is depth that can be relied upon
You only have to look at the number of players missing to show that this Arsenal squad is stronger than last season. Hector Bellerin, Sead Kolasinac, Rob Holding and Mesut Ozil were all absent, while David Luiz, Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe did not start.
In their place, the likes of Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and to a lesser extent Reiss Nelson stood up to the plate. Willock got better as the game went on, while Maitland-Niles provided the crucial assist for the only goal of the game, finished neatly by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
2) Chambers Looks the part
It appears as though the defender’s loan spell at Fulham last season has given him a lot of confidence. Chambers played mostly as a holding midfielder for the Cottagers but his performances were enough to get the club’s player of the year.
The 24-year-old has carried that form with him back to the Gunners and, alongside Sokratis, helped his team keep a clean sheet. They struggled to keep goals out, especially away from home, last season so hopefully, this is the sign of things to come.
Even if Chambers does drop out for David Luiz in the coming weeks, supporters will feel more assured that they have a backup in place who is capable.
3) A higher press is paying dividends
Arsenal had a big problem pressing teams away from the Emirates at the back end of last season. They averaged 11.18 passes per defensive action (ppda) last campaign, according to Wyscout. That means they averaged 11 passes before pressing the opponent for the ball. At home, that was 7.63, almost four passes fewer.
At the start of this campaign, it appears Unai Emery may have made some progress, with their ppda 8.23 against Newcastle. Whether this is a one-off or the start of a new trend, we shall see. The higher press will help them defend better so fans will be hoping it continues.