It was not a performance to live long in the memory, though the points were collected in the kind of grim, rain-sodden environment which Arsenal fans have come to fear in recent years. Briefly, in the first half, Newcastle threatened. But Pierre–Emerick Aubameyang, whose link-up with Pepe promises so much, picked up where he had left off with his 22 goals last season, pouncing sublimely on an opportunity to score.
For Steve Bruce, there were questions to answer last night about the substitution moments for the goal of Jonjo Shelvey, which seemed to contribute to the strike. But a late cameo role from the club’s £16.5m signing from Nice, Allan Saint-Maxim, offered succour on a day which suggested Newcastle’s squad is not as poor as some seem to think. Arsenal always knew they must wait a little for the new boys.
Injury and the opening match arriving too soon after David Luiz’s registration put paid to something materially different. Something far closer to home was called upon, instead. There were starts for three London-born players who have come through Academy – the 19-year-olds Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 21. There’s plainly been development in the 12 months that Emery has spent re-shaping what Arsene Wenger bequeathed him and no longer the sense that team don’t fancy a bleak environment. But while Nelson began the more impressively of the three home grow-players, it was not a first half which hinted at world domination any time soon.
Arsenal struggled to create much beyond the volley from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when Henrikh Mkhitaryan lifted a ball across to him in the closing minutes of the opening period. They were constrained by a lack of imagination and momentary genius which belongs to sides with serious aspirations. Mkhitaryan didn’t lack enthusiasm but his final ball was desperately poor at times.
It’s not hard to see why Emery feels he can go. It was Newcastle who created more in the opening period. They are beginning again, too, of course, and you could see the tension in new manager Steve Bruce’s face as he stood in the deluge before kick-off, staring up at the stand. No doubt wondering what the scale of the threatened boycott would be, in protest at the departure of his predecessor Rafa Benitez.
Newcastle seemed momentarily disorientated by this and within minutes Paul Dummett had delivered a poor pass out of the centre of defence to Willems. Naitland-Miles seized possession, raced ahead and dinked the ball over Jamaal Lascelles for Aubameyang who killed the ball with his first touch.
Saint-Maximin contributed to some uncomfortable moments as Arsenal tried to close things but Emery’s side are up and running. They had won only three times on the road since last November and lost 20 away games in the last two seasons. There are reasons to believe in something different.