The most remarkable thing about Arsenal’s thoroughly unremarkable victory over Newcastle last night was the complete absence of any serious drama. And that includes two clear goals uncharitably disallowed by the bungling Anthony Taylor.
At its worst, the Emirates can be a paranoid glass bowl of a stadium, the anxiety whipped up in the stands rolling discouragingly onto the pitch like a thick fog. But what was striking about last night’s match was the sheer confidence from just about every supporter that Arsenal were going to get a result. Even when Aaron Ramsey’s early strike was disallowed, keeping the game goalless. Even when he then went off injured in the second-half, leading to a very brief period of Newcastle aggression.
Some caveats: Newcastle had just one shot on target all evening, and generally possessed all the attacking menace of Moussa Sissoko with a clear sight of goal. And this was a game Arsenal were always expected to win. But, until very recently, Arsenal defending a one goal lead deep into the second-half would have prompted a serious bout of neuroticism — whoever the opposition.
Not at the moment, though. This was Arsenal’s tenth consecutive home victory, something they have not achieved since the 1997/98 season when they would go on to win the Premier League title. And they have not dropped points in a game they would reasonably have expected to win since the beginning of January, when they slumped to a 1-0 defeat at West Ham.
Particularly encouraging about last night’s win, which lifts Arsenal two points above Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United into third, was that they performed when the spotlight was trained in their direction. There has been a decidedly under the radar quality to their campaign thus far, with one of their finest performances of the season — a 2-0 win over Southampton — coming at the exact same time as everybody else was watching Liverpool’s draw with Manchester United.
But last night, all eyes were on the Emirates. Tottenham’s cruel loss at Anfield had presented their bitterest rivals with a chance which they exploited with aplomb.
Already, this extremely encouraging run of form feels so very different to that 22-match unbeaten streak earlier in the season. That run always had a shimmering, illusory quality to it; the team’s performances not always matching the encouraging results, particularly at the back. Now Arsenal feel a lot more solid: they have conceded just three goals in their last six league matches.
They are a team smoothly clicking into gear at the optimum moment, something evidenced in Mesut Ozil’s hushed reintroduction to the starting XI. For the first half of the season his role in the team was a flashpoint, but now he is back to doing what he does best, the lack of drama again palpable. And how often do we associate Arsenal with a lack of drama?
Key to Arsenal’s hopes of regaining their place in the Champions League after two years outside of the competition will be whether they can reproduce their form at the Emirates away from home. Emery was perfectly willing to admit as much last night. “We need to convince everybody we can be consistent away,” he said. “Our challenge is to [play well] away, we’re going to play five of our last seven matches away. So our challenge is to be consistent away as we are at home.”
It will not be easy. While Spurs see out the majority of their remaining fixtures in their new stadium, Arsenal face testing trips to Goodison Park, Vicarage Road, Molineux, the King Power and Turf Moor. But they are all eminently winnable fixtures. And Arsenal have no remaining matches against the Premier League’s big six — in that respect they have already done the hard work.
Arsenal’s supporters gurgled happily throughout last night’s victory, before one final chant of ‘Tottenham Hotspur — we’re coming for you’ before the dart for the tube. But now the chant is no longer fit for purpose. No longer the hunters, Arsenal find themselves the hunted with a lead to defend. That changes everything, but the composed nature of their win over Newcastle at least suggests they have the necessary mentality to hold onto what they have worked so hard to obtain.
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