Welcome, then, to ‘The Bruce Way’. Unfortunately - although perhaps unsurprisingly - the 60-year-old’s rite of reinvention bore remarkable similarities to the old as Newcastle succumbed to another hollowing defeat. Under siege and plummeting at an alarming rate, Bruce promised to open the floodgates and send his players out swinging. If only Arsenal had found their killer instinct earlier, this comfortable 3-0 victory might have instead resembled something closer to a massacre.
If the last week at Arsenal has been dominated by the now banished spectre of Mesut Ozil - and the return of their lacking imagination against Crystal Palace - this victory provided the perfect showpiece. Emile Smith Rowe, who proved Newcastle’s downfall in the FA Cup nine days ago, now shoulders much of that creative burden and laid on a fine assist for teammate Bukayo Saka. Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang’s two second-half goals, after a wayward exhibition in the first, will inject Arsenal’s captain with a much-needed burst of confidence. There will be few easier hills to climb this season, but this win will still bring a spring back to the Gunners’ step.
Bruce did, in his defence, ring the changes, with eight new starters and a switch to his preferred back four, but after an utterly pedestrian opening passage, the Trojan horse was quickly found to be empty inside. The Magpies were better than Bruce’s withering assessment last week, but not by a significant amount, and Emil Krafth was all too often left an isolated lamb to the slaughter. In fact, Newcastle’s “gloves off” approach often seemed to exist solely in Miguel Almiron’s adventure down the right, although there was little end product to be found other than Andy Carroll’s swinging arms and elbows, with just a single shot on Arsenal’s goal all game.
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It was a largely anaesthetic affair when these two sides last met and, for a while, it threatened to be a repeat. Once again, though, it was Smith Rowe who breathed life into the contest. First, a driving run inside prised open Newcastle’s defence, with Saka’s cross taking a slight deflection off Karl Darlow. The deviation left Aubameyang off-balance but, from four yards out, his skewed shot against the post was still hard to comprehend.
The first half then descended into a tale of Aubameyang's near misses: a shot soaring over the bar after more nifty work by Smith Rowe; a limp effort towards the far corner as Newcastle’s defence washed back in a tide. Aubameyang tore at Krafth with glee but seemed bereft of the instincts and conviction that make him such a fearsome striker.
And so a war waged. Not the one promised by Bruce but between the inefficient and the impotent. Arsenal not so much struggling creatively as spurning clear opportunities, with David Luiz’s free header on the brink of half time a feat of misdirection. Meanwhile, Newcastle lived up admirably to their reputation of scoring only one goal in their last 11 hours of play, finding success in frustrating but conjuring little pleasure of their own.
Yet, for all Aubameyang’s hesitance, his goal was blisteringly assured - albeit with the aid of Newcastle’s drab defending. Thomas Partey, starting for the first time since early December, chipped a ball over the defence and Krafth was left like a deer in headlights, scuttling backwards helplessly. Aubameyang steamrolled towards him, jinked one way and then the next, and a vicious shot off his weaker foot seared past Darlow. Just his fourth goal of the season, his celebration told of the elation and relief.
The second followed soon after, this time a fantastic link between the two youngest players in Arsenal’s line-up, with Smith Rowe running Krafth ragged again, cutting back and forth before squaring it to Saka, who finished clinically.
From thereon, the contest was over. Partey was saved for a rainier day even before Aubameyang had tapped home Arsenal's third, with Cedric Soares keeping the ball in play by millimetres and finding the striker lurking on the edge of the six-yard box. It was the simplest of goals, preying on Newcastle’s slumped shoulders and squeezed hope. Aubameyang sauntered off early, too, as Arsenal basked in an exemplary three points.
Bruce promised a fight but it is only getting harder for his Newcastle side to get up off the floor.