Following a nightmare first leg in the Europa League against Villareal, Mikel Arteta would have been dreaming for a positive result as Arsenal travelled up to the northeast to face Newcastle United.
Reverting back to the favoured 4-2-3-1 that has been used for the majority of the Gunners' fixtures this season, Arteta sent his team out to dominate possession. The north London side commanded the ball for almost the entirety of the game, with Steve Bruce’s side only managing a single shot on target throughout.
The Gunners took the lead in the first five minutes through Mohamed Elneny, who struck a powerful volley past Martin Dubravka, following a quick piece of build-up play instigated by an inch-perfect David Luiz pass.
While they couldn’t find another goal in the first half, Arteta’s side looked comfortable, as there was a real lack of attacking impetus from the Magpies from the outset.
It wasn’t until the 65th minute that Arsenal would find their second, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his sixth goal against Newcastle since arriving in London in 2018. The Gunners captain latched onto a beautifully timed cross from Gabriel Martinelli, scoring his 10th Premier League goal of the season – it was the 31-year-old’s first start for Arsenal since recovering from malaria.
With the game ambling to its end, Fabian Schär cynically brought down Martinelli, leaving referee Mike Dean with little choice but to show him a straight red.
Arsenal’s standout player was once again Gabriel Martinelli – the Brazilian forward has been impressing in the recent chances that he has been given, proving to be just as exciting as he was prior to the knee injury he picked up in June 2020.
The ever-effervescent 19-year-old looked razor sharp as he lined up on Arsenal’s left-hand side, beating Newcastle right-back Jacob Murphy for pace countless times to put the Gunners on the front foot.
Not only providing an assist for Aubameyang’s goal, Martinelli looked a real force to be reckoned with, showing Arteta what he is truly capable of when given a consistent run of games.
The feeling remains among the Arsenal faithful that should the Brazilian continue to progress in the way that he is, then there is no doubt he can go on to have a career at the very top of the game.
Having returned to the side a St. James’ Park following a seven-game absence, Arsenal were dealt another major injury blow as David Luiz suffered a hamstring injury. The Brazilian veteran looked confident and comfortable on the ball prior to pulling up short; at the moment it is unclear how long Luiz will be side-lined for, but Arteta will now have to re-assess his options for the upcoming games.
Another worry for Arsenal fans will be Martinelli, who felt the full force of Fabian Schär’s red card challenge in injury time. The young forward brushed himself off in a matter of minutes but moved gingerly until the full-time whistle was blown.
Arsenal fans will be hoping there is no lasting damage as they look ahead to a season-defining game midweek, which Martinelli will undoubtedly be keen to play.
Once again, the Gunners are likely to be without both Kieran Tierney and Alexandre Lacazette for the second leg, two players who have more than proved their worth this season, with their individual contributions being sorely missed in their absence.
With the second leg of the Villareal tie fast approaching, Arteta will be hoping that this weekend’s win will be all the motivation they need to turn the semi-final around. Should Arsenal progress into the final, some may call it the most important game in decades for the north London side.