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A good start but Arsenal need to build on win over Newcastle + thoughts on Willock

It was a good start from Arsenal but we need to build on our 1-0 win over Newcastle plus some thoughts on Joe Willock’s performance

It took Arsenal until their thirty-third game to achieve their first, and only, clean sheet away from home last season.  This time around, it’s taken them just one. In a somewhat uninspiring display, the Gunners managed to keep their shape and find the all important goal that decided the game, courtesy of a striker who’s looking very sharp in Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.

The first half passed with minimal incident and although the rain fell heavily, this game had the feel of a season opener with both teams struggling to find their rhythm and still reaching full fitness. By the half time mark, many felt Unai Emery would utilise his frequent approach of half time substitutes, however he kept the side the same. 

The fact that the Spaniard still struggles to get his team going from the off is a discussion for another day, but what is clear is that with this being Unai’s second season, and with the Raul Sanllehi aka Don Raul and co having delivered some key targets, there will be no excuses for Emery not delivering this term around. There was a degree of patience given last season, as the team finished 5th and lost in the Europa League final, however, the same outcome this time would see the board opting against extending Emery’s contract.

Fortunately for Unai, the players and fans alike, Aubmeyang took Maitland Niles’s pass right in his stride and calmly dinked the ball over the outcoming Martin Dubravka, which turned out to be enough to separate the sides.  

What was also delightful to see was the passion and enjoyment the goal brought Unai Emery. He jumped up and down and gave a nice spin before hugging his coaching staff, including new to the dugout, Freddie Ljungberg. 

And it’ll be Ljungberg who will take a lot of pride from the Arsenal performance as Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock, all Arsenal academy boys, played an effective part.

Willock, 19, was the stand out performer who played with an enjoyment and confidence that selecting youth brings. He was always open to receiving the ball and never shied away from his responsibilities showing similar traits to Aaron Ramsey in his determination to be involved and make something happen. 

While Willock made an impact going forward, it was his strength off the ball that caught the eye of many fans and further increased his reputation. It was one moment in particular that defined his desire; Jonjo Shelvey shoved him off the ball and began to attack the Arsenal defence, but Willock sprinted back into play and performed a perfectly timed slide tackle to dispose Shelvey and send Arsenal on another attack.

It is attributes like this which will please Emery the most, and if Willock can add consistent assists to his game then he could find himself in a prime position for the number ten role, especially considering Ozil’s perceived lack of work off the ball, and the unjust position the German finds himself in.

Arguably, not enough has been spoken about the situation regarding both Ozil and Sead Kolasinac. After being attacked at knife point in North West London, where Kolasinac fought off the attackers, it is believed the pair were targeted again and the impact has meant neither was selected for the first game of the season. 

While many have shoved this aside as the part of being a modern day footballer, not enough have spoken about how significant and scandalous this situation is. Two fully fit players, who have both enjoyed successful pre-seasons, have been denied the opportunity to play over fears of being attacked. The discussion for the contributions and impact of the issue are for another time, but it seems worth realising how serious this situation actually is. 

In spite of these circumstances, there were other positives for Arsenal to look forward to from their first game of the season, especially the performance from Calum Chambers. After spending last season at Fulham where he mostly played defensive midfield, many assumed Chambers’s Arsenal days were numbered. 

However, the Englishman has fought for his place and with the arrival of David Luiz looks to be in a good position to learn from an experienced winner and solidify himself as an Arsenal starter. Against Newcastle and alongside Sokratis, Chambers looked self-assured, on the front foot and always determined to get ahead of his man. 

Of course, there will be much sterner tests for the defender throughout the season, and no doubt there will be mistakes, but there is an optimistic rumbling from Arsenal fans that with Rob Holding returning to full fitness, these two exciting English defenders, who spend a lot of time together off the pitch, could spend a lot of time on it together as well. 

Looking ahead to the second game to Burnley at home, Arsenal will hope to continue to make the Emirates a fortress, much like they had for the majority of last season – until the collapse that led to Europa League football for the third year running.

By then Nicolas Pepe would’ve had another week training as well as David Luiz and one hopes Sead Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil will also have the opportunity to wear the beautiful new Adidas home shirt. Overall, one nil to the Arsenal is in some ways a perfect start for a team with a rocky defence, but now, they must go and build on this foundation. 

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