The understudies emerged from the shadows to shine, and it may be that Arsenal’s reserves are performing with more freedom and expression than the usual cast of bunglers.
Not only was Mikel Arteta’s team magazine showing changes – eight of them – but the subsequent showing was barely recognizable. In short, Arsenal played well.
Yes, they were helped by a Newcastle squad who got stage fright on what could have been the day they were all providing safety.
Arsenal took a much needed win ahead of their Europa League semi-final with a comfortable win over Newcastle
Mohamed Elneny celebrates after scoring his first Premier League goal for Arsenal to put the Gunners ahead
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doubled Arsenal’s lead in the second half to end a Gabriel Martinelli cross
Fabian Schar returned to Newcastle as a substitute in the second half but was shown a late red card for a foul on Martinelli
MATCHES AND PLAYER RATINGS
Newcastle (5-3-2): Dubravka 5; Murphy 5, Fernandez 6 (Schar 73, 4), Clark 6 (Gayle 84), Dummett 6, Ritchie 6; Almiron 5 (Joelinton 73.5), Shelvey 5, S Longstaff 5.5; Wilson 5, Saint-Maximin 6.5
Subs not used: Gillespie, M Longstaff, Lewis, Hendrick, Krafth, Anderson
Bookings: Almiron, Fernandez
Manager: Steve Bruce 5
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ryan 6.5; Bellerin 7, Gabriel 7, Luiz 7 (Chambers 53, 7), Xhaka 6.5; Ceballos 7, Elneny 7.5; Willian 6.5, Odegaard 7.5 (Partey 85), Martinelli 8; Aubameyang 7.5 (Pepe 78, 5)
Subs not used: Leno, Saka, Carlo, Thomas, Pablo Mari, Nketiah, Smith-Rowe
Scorers: Elneny 5, Aubameyang 66
Manager: Mikel Arteta 7
Ref: M Dean 5
But don’t take anything away from the Arsenal leaders like goalscorers Mohamed Elneny and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who started for the first time since recovering from malaria.
Gabriel Martinelli’s delightful cross secured Aubameyang’s second place, and the teen’s winger was also a strong plea for keeping his jersey.
That trio all appeared as substitutes during Thursday’s 2-1 loss at Villarreal. They will be unhappy when they return to the bench this week for the second leg of that Europa League semi-final.
But those are the decisions Arteta faces after an act of rare courage and conviction.
Arsenal held the ball for nearly 90 minutes and didn’t look like a team kicking off in the bottom half of the table.
Newcastle, on the other hand, did. They were back to their listless worst, and this by nearly enough of their strongest XI.
All they seemed to be interested in was the time of day. That’s a problem for Steve Bruce, whose team has been woefully underperforming this season, keeping them in 17th position.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have moved into the top half, although the Europa League victory – and automatic transition to next year’s Champions League – remain their best chance of keeping a quarter of a century in European competition.
The only sour note was a hamstring injury from David Luiz, back in the team after five weeks offside.
“Apart from David’s injury, it was what we wanted,” said Arteta.
“We had a strong performance from the start and dominated the game. It helps for Thursday, it puts us in a better position. They all gave me something to think about. ‘
It flattered Newcastle to follow just one in the meantime. While protesters at Old Trafford did their best to invade a soccer field, Bruce’s plot looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. Arsenal took advantage of so little resistance.
Elneny gave Arsenal the lead after just five minutes with a great attack that goalkeeper Martin Dubravka couldn’t do anything about.
Schar’s red card was checked by VAR, who decided not to reverse the incident that occurred during injury time
Newcastle didn’t offer much to threaten Arsenal, but they are comfortably nine points from the relegation zone
There was concern for Arsenal as defender David Luiz limped in pain during the second half by holding onto his hamstring.
Steve Bruce was disappointed with his side, which did not show the same threat as in recent games
The ball belonged exclusively to the visitors during the first five minutes and it was a justified climax with the opening goal.
Luiz jumped for the pass that Hector Bellerin made clear. He then retired from Aubameyang and the attacker’s rustiness saw him become an unwitting provider when his mis-hit shot landed in front of Elneny, who hit home from 14 yards. It was the midfielder’s first Premier League goal in his 66th appearance, something of a surprise given the performance of his finish.
Equally curious was the swagger with which Arsenal played. Roy Keane had said in the TV studio that he expected “very little” from Arteta’s team.
Not only was he the one who underestimated them, and Newcastle never recovered from their early complacency.
But what remained a mystery was the failure of Bruce to instruct Allan Saint-Maximin to attack the makeshift left-back Granit Xhaka. On one of the few times their paths crossed, the attacker made a mistake that earned Xhaka a booking.
That was at 20 minutes and given Xhaka’s penchant for the erratic and irrational, it was baffling why he was offered an easy ride at the time.
Martinelli has been a constant source of great offensive play for Arsenal, providing an assist to Aubameyang
Xhaka could have been sent off the field in the second half, but that was a pointless block in Newcastle half, rather than a home tactic meant to target him.
But Arsenal, you suspect, would have led the game with 10 men, that’s how superior they were. Their second, at 66 minutes, was vintage Arsenal in the complexity of its approach.
They extended a series of passes around the edge of the penalty area before Martin Odegaard drove wide for Martinelli, who hit the far post for Aubameyang to apply an airborne finish.
And that was that, except for Fabian Schar’s red card in the ninety minutes when he clattered to Martinelli from behind. It was probably a yellow color, but such indiscipline summed up a miserable afternoon for Newcastle.
Bruce said, “The best team has won. To beat an Arsenal team, you have to play better than us. Allan Saint-Maximin has spawned all kinds of magic in recent weeks, but it wasn’t quite there today. ‘
Arsenal, meanwhile, was magical. Not bad for the second string.
Sportsmail’s KIERAN LYNCH provided live EPL coverage of Newcastle vs Arsenal, including scoreline, lineups and build-up.