Arsenal's youngsters impress in convincing display
Goals from Daniel Crowley, Stephy Mavididi and Serge Gnabry helped the Young Guns leapfrog Aston Villa back into second place - with two games in hand over Derby County, whose lead at the summit has been cut down to five points. In-front of a well-attended crowd at the Emirates, following their narrow but frustrating exit from this year's FA Youth Cup at the semi-final stage, Arsenal got off to the best possible start with two goals in quick succession.
Jack Wilshere made his long-awaited return to competitive football, whilst Tomas Rosicky also featured: the first-team midfielders were involved in both goals. First, it was initial great forward play between Rosicky and Mavididi. The latter teed up Crowley nicely, and he weaved past two defenders before keeping a cool head to slot home from close-range.
A minute later, Mavididi turned goalscorer after taking advantage of a sleepy Newcastle backline, who were inviting far too much pressure in their half. It was punished to devastating effect, when the striker netted his 12th goal in all competitions to double the lead with no hesitation after Rosicky's teasing through ball.
Lack of fortune gives Newcastle hope
The visitors did well to grab a foothold in the game, despite their slow start. Krystian Bielik, defensively solid and assured as usual, was very unfortunate to score an own goal after attempting a sliding clearance. Instead, the ball flicked past a helpless Matt Macey at the near post, creeping in to give Newcastle renewed hope that they could actually get something from the game - especially having struggled in the early exchanges.
Macey was forced into a number of sharp reaction saves as you could tell the momentum shifted dramatically in the visitors' favour, before an innocuous knock forced Marcus McGuane off with Jeff Reine-Adelaide coming on in his place.
Serge Gnabry was certainly a man on a mission to prove his critics wrong, showing what the first-team have been missing in recent months with a fresh impetus of pace and direct play when running through on the front foot. The talented 20-year-old restored our two-goal cushion after 34 minutes with aplomb, speeding past his marker on the flank before rifling goalwards - sending goalkeeper Nathan Harker sprawling as his effort nestled into the corner.
In the second-half, the tempo dropped significantly at times and there were also less attempts on-goal. Unsurprising, given the comfortable lead, that Steve Gatting's side were reluctant to relinquish possession cheaply to give Newcastle an opportunity to counter-attack at speed. Chris Willock was the hosts' third and final substitution on the evening, and it was clear from his introduction that the winger was definitely lively in all the right areas as he looked to rubber stamp his presence on the fixture.
Unfortunately for him and the rest of his attacking team-mates, they were unable to add to their lead, but Newcastle began to gradually frustrate with continuous cynical and crunching fouls in various areas of the pitch to slow down the Gunners' momentum, which certainly meant the final stages began to drag slightly - but the result was virtually sealed and ultimately confirmed at the referee's final whistle.
A good first-half performance, a solid second-half display, and a welcome three points for the Young Guns. Work still to do if they're to top - or promote from Group 2 this season, but with three games in quick succession there's no reason it cannot be done.