Double Pants Dilemma: Newcastle v Arsenal Match Report and Player Ratings

The first game of a new season prompts a strange mix of emotions: excitement, anticipation, hope, nervousness. Perhaps fear.

I imagine it’s the way a bride must feel on the morning of her wedding when everything has been planned just the way she wants it but she has a nagging suspicion that she might be marrying the wrong man.

Well, let’s hope Arsenal’s 2019/20 season is a ‘happily ever after’ story and we don’t end up feeling betrayed, abandoned and embittered with only chocolate and cats to console us.

The auguries were not good for yesterday’s season opener against a Newcastle United team led by new coach Mrs Doubtfire.

There were two reasons for concern: firstly, our opening day form has been pants in recent years. And secondly, for the first time in years our opening match was away from home and, as we all know, our away form has also been pants.

So we had a double pants dilemma, like an anxious incontinence sufferer.

First, our opening day form: in the previous four years, starting with last year, we have managed the following: home defeat to Manchester City; scrappy and somewhat lucky home win against Leicester City; home defeat to Liverpool; home defeat to West Ham.

Next, our overall away form: last season and the one before we contrived to lose exactly half of our away games in the Premier League (19 out of 38) and managed to win only 11 out of 38 – a win rate of just 29%.

Yet, with all that in mind, it was impossible not to feel a bit chipper going into the game.

Most of us would probably agree we had a good transfer window and this has helped the mood music around the club to be more upbeat. There’s a cautious feeling that we have started to plant the seeds of recovery after some frustrating years.

There appears to be a bit more of a clear direction at the club and it’s hard not to be excited about new signings like Ceballos, Pepe and Martinelli, and the continuing progress of home-grown talents like Willock and Nelson.

Unai Emery went with a starting line-up that will probably bear little resemblance to our eventual first choice eleven this season (once the broken ones have returned and the new ones have settled). He put his faith in some of the youngsters. Willock, Nelson and Guendouzi started, as did Maitland-Niles and Chambers (does Calum Chambers still count as a youngster?).

Lacazette, rightly, was not risked due to recent injury issues, but was on the bench in case we needed to chase a goal late on. That meant the irrepressible Aubameyang would be carrying most of our attacking hopes.

The first half was a fairly even affair. The Barcodes had a 10 minute spell when they created some half chances, including a shot from noted Nosferatu impersonator Jonjo Shelvey that hit the post (although Leno may just have had it covered).

From our side, we were finding it difficult to break down a well-organised Newcastle defence and whenever it looked like we might find a way through a wayward pass or piece of control would bring an end to things.

But there were promising signs in the way we knocked the ball around at times and it was particularly pleasing to see Willock and Nelson so involved and showing a lot of confidence. Guendouzi, meanwhile, was my stand-out player of the first period. He’s strong, competitive, always makes himself available and is ever keen to get on the front foot: he may look like the dopey sidekick from a 1990s teen movie, but this kid has future leading man written all over him.

In the second half we were the superior team overall, without creating clear cut chances until the breakthrough came courtesy of two men for whom two initials are just not enough: AMN and PEA.

Maitland-Niles showed brilliant anticipation as Newcastle played the ball out from the back. He beat the Newcastle player to the ball around the half way line, took a couple of touches and looked up to see Auba moving into space in the penalty area. Maitland-Niles’s 35-yard* pass to our Gabonese gazelle was beautifully executed. Aubameyang brought it under control and coolly side-footed it past the on-rushing ‘keeper.

Mrs Doubtfire will be fuming at the space given to our striker in the box, but that should not detract from the fact that he found the space or the sublime way in which he finished.

As Auba ran to celebrate with his Number One Best Bro (Lacazette) on the touchline I liked that he turned to beckon Maitland-Niles to join the party.

After that Newcastle huffed and puffed but caused few real scares.

It’s tempting to say that Aubameyang’s quality was the difference, but in truth we displayed superiority in most areas for the majority of the game.

We also got to have a look at Ceballos, Pepe and Martinelli as they came on for Willock, Nelson and Mkhitaryan. There were a couple of nice moments from Pepe in particular, but the main thing was they got their debuts under their belts and they can feel they contributed to a win and a clean sheet.

I think a special word is also merited for our new away kit – and that word is “Yes!” Well done Adidas.

*For younger readers who don’t understand imperial measurements, 35 yards is equivalent to 28 Ells, or 70 Cubits.

Player Ratings

Leno: dealt with everything that came his way. In particular I enjoyed the moment in the second half where he came out of his area to head the ball clear and snuff out a dangerous Newcastle attack. 7.5

Maitland-Niles: excellent overall game from the young fullback and his anticipation and skill directly led to our winning goal. 8

Monreal: solid and unspectacular from Nacho, but he did little wrong. 7

Sokratis: it’s hard to get excited about our Greek colossus, but he is a very dependable defender and had a good game. 7

Chambers: a year on loan playing in midfield has been good for Chambers. I fancy he could be one of the surprise success stories of the season. Like his central defence partner he was solid. 7

Xhaka: seemed more subdued than usual but was tidy and played some very nice attacking passes at times. 6.5

Guendouzi: all energy all the time. I love the way he turns his body as he receives the ball so he is always ready to surge towards the opposition end. 8

Nelson: confident and tidy. It’s very encouraging to have players like him and Willock coming through, not least for the way it can inspire other up-and-coming talents at the club. 7

Willock: this lad’s a class act. 7.5

Mkhitaryan: I know he’s not a fan favourite but I thought he was lively in the first half and helped create some of our better chances. His final ball let him down a couple of times and he faded in the second half. 6

Aubameyang: exuberant, talented and full of energy – what a great player to have wearing the Arsenal shirt. MoTM 8.5.


Ceballos: misplaced a few passes as he tried to find his feet, but grew into the game.

Pepe: showed one or two very nice moments of skill. Looking forward to seeing more of him.

Martinelli: a Brazilian forward at the Arsenal? What’s not to like?



45 Responses to Double Pants Dilemma: Newcastle v Arsenal Match Report and Player Ratings

  1. Rasp says:

    Fabulous report Rocky .. we’ve missed you.

    That was a classic Arsenal lightning strike goal. The pace and power of M-N’s interception and the precision of his pass was top class, Auba’s first touch was sublime followed by a clinical strikers finish. M-N and Willock were both superb and clearly fit in with the way UE wants the team to play, I hope he perseveres with them.

    I can only see positives. Three points, a clean sheet, an away win, all three new recruits getting time on the pitch, and a patient and disciplined performance … 9/10 for Unai

  2. RC78 says:

    What a post to start the week! Thanks for the great read. I agree with all ratings except Douzi who I think deserve a bit less because he can be more effective with his passing and running still

  3. VP of Oz says:

    Rocky brilliant post, Many Many thanks.
    Agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote.
    Looking forward to each game. Our players have a blend of youth, experience, skill and class. Whats not to like (best I search up AFTV and find out hehe).

    Adidas have nailed the kit designs. The 3rd kit looks excellent as well. COYG!

  4. LBG says:

    Quality analysis throughout, with that sparkle only seen in a wordsmith. (Mrs Doubtfire, a classic!)
    A wet, cold Sunday in the North-East could easily have been a bananaskin, and even a Doughty draw would, IMO, have been a little disappointing. Away win, three points, clean sheet. What’s not to like!?
    Interesting to speculate how many of yesterday’s team will be starters when all fit.
    Do hope the four at the back remains the chosen form. If Daviid is to be shoehorned in, stick him in front of a back four (I wont suggest who for!).
    So to an early start next Saturday, with the full compliment of Vines Bros attending. Cant wait.
    Have a good week AAers

  5. fred1266 says:

    One thing I mentioned in the pass which I think helps Us in the Newcastle game is given up position up to thr time when we scored Newcastle were at 60% possession so maybe those teams that park the bus we should drop back give them more possession then forced them into a mistake like yesterday

  6. fred1266 says:

    Willock was good yesterday but would like to see him CDM role I find he bring the ball deep better than douzi and xhaka

    Hope saka places next game and put mkhitarian in Middle on the wings he is lost

    Is mkhitarian lacking confidence or was he lost it

  7. allezkev says:

    That was a really good read Rocky, very detailed and well thought out, thanks for that.

    I thought that Sokratis played a very understated, mature game, with VAR in mind, I guess having Chambers alongside helped as Calum isn’t rash and they both complimented each other.
    Also Monreal seemed to hold his position, tucking in and not leaving space behind to be exploited only AMN bombed forward, but not as often as usual, a very disciplined defensive display all round.

  8. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky, another masterpiece. The AA head honchos need to lock you up and throw away the key so you don’t disappear again. Thank-you also to Liam for the pre-match yesterday.

    In fact it was the tail end of Liam’s post yesterday that describes this game the best:

    “As far as what to expect from game, my guess will be that given their new manager, they will sit a little deeper and be more compact than in previous seasons. Think it’s going to be a tough match without the previously mentioned players and will be happy with any win.”

    They indeed made themselves difficult to break down. Added in the weather and it was away and we were missing a few key players it goes down as a good battling win with many positives.

    Willock stood out for me among the younger contingent, and I agree with Fred that he ought to play between the holding midfielder and ACM. AMN also looked good and by and large dealt well with a very pacey and dangerous opponent In Almeiron.

    Micki I thought was slightly unfairly judged. His end product wasn’t quite there yesterday, but normally it is, and when he gets on the ball he does always try and get us driving forwards and has that understanding with Aube. I still think he could have some important contributions this season. Whether he is strongest 1st 11 when everyone is fit is debatable.

    I think I buck the trend slightly on A.A (maybe RC78 and Fred aside), but I thought that Gouzi was decent but not great, and again I didn’t feel his partnership with Xhaka looked that strong. In fact I felt that we lost a fair bit of the battle in that area of midfield.

    I thought they were often quicker to the loose ball or 50-50 ball and I didn’t feel we looked that dynamic or physical in that area. It looked to me a bit pedestrian and I thought we surrendered possession there a bit too much. The fact Newcastle weren’t able to capitalise was a blessing.

    I say that not to be negative, and I am more than happy with 3 points, but I still feel this is the big area in the team that UE hasn’t got right yet, and I think we will potentially pay more against better opposition.

  9. Brady's Namesake (Liam) says:

    Really really good post today Rocky. Enjoyed it thoroughly. Most of the comments describe my thoughts so I don’t have much to add. One question for GoonerB… I agree that a Guendouzi/Xhaka midfield pairing isnt likely to work in big games, but what pairing would you prefer moving forward.

  10. fred1266 says:

    Sue what u think about doing new kit

  11. fred1266 says:

    LBG so u telling me that wasn’t luiz infront the back four yesterday

  12. VCC says:

    Liam. ..Until all our players are fit, why not play the same back line as yesterday and replace Xhaka with Luiz?

  13. RockyLives says:

    Hello all and thanks for the comments.

    Fred – we do seem to have had some good results when we’re prepared to let other teams have possession. It’s certainly better than all those games during the later Wenger period when we would have 70% possession and still lose…

    GoonerB – fair enough about Gwen – I have seen some different interpretations of his performance yesterday, but I thought he was very dynamic. Agree with you about Mikhi – a bit more concentration and he might have had two assists and a goal… but sadly he didn’t…

    Also agree with those praising Chambers… I wonder if we’re heading for a back 5 of Bellerin-Tierney-Chambers-Sokratis-Luiz (the trouble is, there aren’t then enough places further forward to get all our shiny new players into). Maybe it’s an approach to take against the ‘top’ teams?

    Chambers and Sok look a reassuring presence at the moment, but we’ll see how they fare in the stiffer tests ahead.

  14. Aaron says:

    How nice it is to come here and read well written pre and post observations, that were accurate.

    4 things stand out for me:

    Miki is low on confidence and his finishing has be piss poor for a while now.

    Guen is improving, but could do with a few 1 touch passes to pull the defenses a bit more out of shape and save him some running. I thought one of the ideas of possession is to make the other team run.

    Xhaka was not horrible, but his partnership with Guen is not that sharp yet, who knows maybe it will get better.

    Chambers really calmed down the back line. Thank goodness, but as mentioned it was not chickens with their heads cut off in front of them either.

    Look forward to seeing a few more small changes in personal on the field for Emery to work with.

  15. Sue says:

    Where’s the picture of Mrs Doubtfire gone?!! Hilarious!
    Nice post 👍
    With it being our first game and it also being away, I was nervous.. very nervous!! Even more so when the team news came out… but was really impressed with the team & to come away with a clean sheet too was spot on!! Roll on Saturday.. Pepe unleashed at the Emirates with that goalscoring machine Auba!! 33 goals in 50 games!!! More than Henry, Wrighty, Sanchez, Laca… take a bow Pierre!!
    He gets my MOTM!!

    I wonder how many goals Chelsea will ship on Wednesday?!! Loved them getting thrashed yesterday, just gutted it was by the Mancs!!
    Fascinating start to the season…….

  16. Sue says:

    Hi Fred… love Adidas!! This is the first season, in a very long time, that I want to buy all 3 shirts!! 1 down… 2 to go 😀

  17. Rasp says:

    Hi Sue, I took the pic out … I was advised it was in bad taste … and I wouldn’t want to detract from such a great post …

  18. Brady's Namesake says:

    VCC… definitely an interesting thought. Im not a Xhaka fan and would rather not have him starting so I would be open to it, however I must say I thought he played fairly solid in the 2nd half yesterday. Its certainly an interesting discussion and will only get more difficult as Torreira and Ozil make their way back. 3 spots for Ceballos, Willock, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Torreira, and Ozil is a very tough decision.

  19. Sue says:

    Fair enough, Rasp 👍

  20. Rasp says:

    I might reinstate it later Sue if you want to start a campaign 😂

  21. RockyLives says:

    I suppose there’s a risk that Mrs D might sue…

  22. Rasp says:

    Brady’s Namesake, the story is that Mesut’s wife has left the country in fear …. it could be that we don’t get to see him play for us again if he feels it’s safer for his family abroad (Turkey?)

  23. LB says:

    The Gabonese Gazelle

    So obvious but only after you have read it.

    So good to read a Rocky match report again

  24. Rasp says:

    😂 Rocky …. did you see the pic? … peaches told me off 😳

  25. RockyLives says:

    I’m afraid I didn’t Rasp, but if you likened me to Steve Bruce I’d sue…

  26. Rasp says:

    Never Rocky … you’re far more like Jose Moaninho 🙂

  27. RockyLives says:

    Low blow Rasp, a low blow.

  28. Rasp says:

    Not in temperament Rocky … dashing good looks .. don’t you know

  29. Rasp says:

    You’re lucky, I (and a couple of other AAers) look far more like Steve Stone 😆

  30. Sue says:

    What a stunner 🤣

  31. RockyLives says:


  32. RA says:

    Well, Rocket,

    I think that was an absolute disgrace, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

    You knew very well that I was having a leave of absence from blogging and putting my very large gallumphers in it. ( Northern expression) and yet you went ahead and produced a delightfully analytical Post with accompanying critically accurate player ratings.

    We have missed you, you son of a gun, and your whimsical humour, always good for a belly laugh, delivered with the written equivalent of a deadpan delivery.

    How are you, and the family?

    Are you going to favour us with your presence on a more regular basis, or are you still indulging in hit and run appearances?

    A lovely, article, but shame on you for making me break my sabbatical. 🥺

    [I am still bathing in dung weekly, on your recommendation, so that one day I will grow up and write as eloquently as what you do, innit.]

  33. RA says:

    That’s incredible — I have not seen you for a long time Rocky-Doodle – but your hair style in the 5:29 is a dead giveaway — but who’s the geezer on your right smiling at Sue??

  34. RockyLives says:

    Hello Redders

    Those dung baths are playing havoc with your vision. That’s me on the right with the spectacles.

  35. RA says:

    Oh dear — Rock-Me — I know that is you looking at me — but it is the one on your right who is slyly looking away, making eyes at the camel, that I do not recognise.

    [I know I said “Sue” first time, but when I typed ‘camel’ the autocorrect kicked in ‘cos it thought I meant Sue, Grabbit and Run.] Tssh!!

  36. fred1266 says:

    I think we are mistaken confidence for when a player just isn’t good anymore and to me this is mkhitarian

  37. fred1266 says:

    It should be use playing Wednesday sue 😂😅🤣

  38. fatgingergooner says:

    I thought Mkhitaryan did some really good things in that he drove from midfield and got in good positions, but there is no doubt that his final ball yesterday was woeful. Kicking the ball straight out of play and shooting 10 yards wide when inside the box is not good. I do believe though that Emery loves his work rate and his willingness to listen to instruction, and that’s probably why he gets games. I imagine Emery wishes he could have a mixture of Özil and Mkhitaryan rather than the 2 separate players!

    As for Xhaka, I thought he was good yesterday. Still a couple of stray passes, but he controlled the midfield along with Geundouzi and he did some good defensive work.

    I was really impressed with the last 15 minutes. Newcastle were obviously poor, but I like our professionalism and other than 1 free kick bouncing around our box, we never looked in trouble. Things have definitely changed from the days of trying to score a second and kill teams off by committing too many men forward. Maybe Newcastle were there for the taking yday, but sometimes putting men behind the ball and wasting time is just as effective as trying to score again.

  39. fred1266 says:

    Workrate my A** he a lazy bastard doesn’t even help out defensively

  40. Sue says:

    Holding got some more minutes under his belt tonight, with the U23’s – as did ESR – which is good! Balogun hat trick 👍

  41. Sue says:

    Oh wonderful – Mike Dean is officiating our game on Saturday… no doubt he’ll receive a very warm welcome 😂😂

  42. GoonerB says:

    Liam, your question earlier about how to set up with the midfield behind our front 3 (assuming that will be Auba, Laca and Pepe as 1st choice). I am not too sure what the best answer is to the midfield 3. I feel the problem is that we haven’t been playing with what I would view as a holding midfielder.

    I don’t feel any of Xhaka, Guondozi, and arguably even Torreira, are actually specialist holding midfielders (that invisible wall) in the way that Gilberto was and say Fernandinho is.

    All of them look to be more free roaming box to box or creative defensive midfielders if you like. None of them seem to be that player dedicated to tidying up and being the screen in front of the back 4. Torreira is probably the closest but even he seems to be more suited to being a free roaming defensive midfielder. Willock could also be best suited to the BTB role as well so would join Xhaka, Guondozi and Torreira on the list for that role.

    I think that Ozil, Ceballos and Micki are more suited to being ACM’s, so we have a choice of 3 for that role. My feeling is that we need to have a proper holding midfielder, and I wonder if either Chambers or Luiz would make us stronger in that part of the field. Then choose 1 from Torreira, Willock, Xhaka and Douzi for the BTB CM role, and 1 from Ozil, Ceballos and Micki for the ACM position.

  43. JM says:

    With current available players (as of now, e.g. not injured/ recovering from injury/ rested for special cases – as with Özil & Kolašinac) :

    Backline: (GK) Leno, (RB) Maitland-Niles, (LB) Monreal (capt.), (CB) Sokratis, (CB) Chambers

    Midfield: (DM/Volante) Luiz, (CM/B2B) Torreira, (CM/AM/Playmaker) Ceballos

    Frontline: (RF) Pépé, (LF) Aubameyang, (CF) Lacazette

    Luiz as DM (Pros):
    – physical strength and good height (6ft 2in)
    – technical player with range of distribution (long, medium, short passing) and confidence with the ball
    – freekick/deadball specialist (useful at direct freekicks around attacking D areas)
    – the team can be made flexible in switching between a back 4 and back 3 during matches whenever required, with Luiz (as a modern libero) slotting between Sokratis and Chambers.

    The midfield axis of Luiz-Torreira-Ceballos (less communication barrier; latin american style football with a few shithouserey).

    Willock and Guendouzi will still get their chances and minutes to shine whenever squad rotation is needed.

  44. Morning all

    There’s a New Post …………….

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