Wednesday 19 June 2019

Ramsey star as Gunners tighten their grip on a top-four finish

Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0

Shkodran Mustafi and Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal (9) celebrate victory. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Shkodran Mustafi and Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal (9) celebrate victory. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Luke Brown

The conversation surrounding Aaron Ramsey's imminent departure to Juventus has so far centred around a simple question: how has this been allowed to happen?

A few months down the line, though, there is now a more pressing issue that needs solving: who is going to replace the Welshman when he leaves?

Mesut Ozil of Arsenal competes with Mohamed Diame of Newcastle United. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Mesut Ozil of Arsenal competes with Mohamed Diame of Newcastle United. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

For weeks now, Ramsey has been key to Unai Emery's plans. And rarely has his importance been more obvious than it was here, when the Welshman wore the captain's armband and struck the opening goal of a victory that carried Arsenal into third place, above Tottenham, and reinstated their lead in the four-man race for the top four.

A place in next season's Champions League is within Arsenal's sights now. There will be more twists to come, of course, but this was their 10th consecutive home victory and it represents the latest hurdle that Emery's side have cleared.

It was an uncomfortable hurdle to get over, too, with Newcastle United proving to be typically obdurate and restrictive opponents until Alexandre Lacazette's late strike.

It was job done, thanks largely to the man who will soon be leaving for a new job, and there was also a welcome milestone for Emery in his first campaign: Arsenal have now equalled their points tally of last season, with seven games to spare.

Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

There were no prizes for guessing how Newcastle would set up here. Benitez's side were as deep, compact and organised as Emery would have expected them to be, and they made life predictably difficult for Arsenal in the opening half an hour.

The home side were missing the controlling presence of Granit Xhaka in midfield during these early exchanges, when the space was restricted and the Arsenal rhythm was disrupted. Having spent the first half of the season struggling to score before half-time, Arsenal have been plundering early goals in recent weeks yet it took them a full 15 minutes to create anything of note here.

That first chance fell to Ramsey, who rammed a low shot into the net after a left-wing corner. Referee Anthony Taylor was wagging his finger like an angry schoolmaster before Ramsey had even begun his celebration, though, calling up a supposed foul from Sokratis on Florian Lejeune.

Sokratis was certainly holding the Newcastle defender's arm, but there was surely no chance of Lejeune reaching the ball before Ramsey.

If that felt like an injustice for Arsenal, they quickly righted the perceived wrong. Again Ramsey was central, as he has been ever since it was confirmed he would be joining Juventus next season. The Welshman flicked the ball artfully into the path of Alexandre Lacazette and then strode into the box to steer a low finish into the far corner.

It was the sort of goal that Ramsey has spent so much of his career scoring. It was also the sort of goal that no other player in Emery's squad is capable of producing on a regular basis.

Newcastle responded well to the setback. Sokratis might have backed his considerable strength against the brick-like frame of Salomon Rondon, but the Arsenal defender crumpled to the floor under a powerful shoulder charge. Rondon ran on, forcing the save from Bernd Leno.

Dangerous

From there Arsenal looked more dangerous, with Mesut Ozil beginning to sprinkle his usual brand of stardust on the occasion.

Only the bravery of Matt Ritchie, blocking Lacazette's fierce shot on the line, prevented Arsenal from doubling the lead.

The problems for Arsenal, when they arose, were largely of their own making. Shkodran Mustafi, in particular, was in a worryingly jittery mood in possession. Further forward it was more encouraging, at least, with Ozil seemingly on a one-man crusade to humiliate each Newcastle player with dummies. At one stage the German's best three moments had all been when he had let the ball run through his legs.

These were pleasing flickers of fun but they were a long way from being indicative of a free-flowing game.

Arsenal were not allowed to be at their most exciting, while a series of fouls, offsides and minor injuries had slowed the tempo. A more serious injury soon forced Ramsey off the pitch, to rapturous applause.

Emery turned the screw by deploying Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had been left on the bench due to a minor illness. Arsenal's top scorer did not take long to pose problems of the Newcastle back-line, heading a fine pass to Lacazette, whose lofted finish sealed the points and guaranteed that Arsenal would leapfrog their most bitter rivals. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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