Arsenal were rampant against Newcastle United as they beat the Magpies 4-0 in the Premier League. Playing after a two-week break, the Gunners scored all four goals in the second half in an impressive all-round performance. The win also marked two consecutive clean sheets in the league as well as a significant win at home for Mikel Arteta. Arsenal's attack finally clicked after a few months of struggle but paid dividends as four different goalscorers found themselves on the scoreline. Here are three tactical observations from the game.
1. Ceballos frees Ozil
Mesut Ozil had a very good game, scoring his first goal in the league in almost a year. The German was influential in Arsenal's attacking play and found the space to exert his creative influence. An important reason behind Ozil's performance was the presence of Dani Ceballos playing as a central midfielder behind him. Ceballos replaced Torreira in midfield and lined up alongside Granit Xhaka. The Spaniard was integral in moving the ball forward after receiving it from Xhaka.
Due to Ceballos' progression and dribbling, Ozil was freed from having to drop deeper and receive the ball as he has had to do in recent times. Rather, the playmaker was able to play out of his favoured number ten role in the half-spaces and between the opposition's defensive lines. Ozil's reduced attacking output is largely due to him not being utilized properly. The closer he is to the goal, the more he can contribute and this is why Ceballos was integral to unlocking Ozil's best.
2. Arsenal concede less space to opponents
While results may not have been spectacular, Arsenal have improved a great deal under Arteta. The defensive changes are especially visible. Arsenal are conceding fewer goals. In two games, they were down to ten men yet they did not crumble as they have in the past few years. Instead, the new defensive structure has brought a marked improvement to Arsenal's defensive fortunes. The new structure is very simple. It focuses on minimizing the opponent's space close to the box and keeping a structured defensive line.
Against Newcastle, Arsenal conceded just two shots on target. To put this into context, in a game at home to Southampton under Unai Emery, Arsenal conceded a massive 21 shots with six being on target. The trio of David Luiz, Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi kept a close distance to each other with a conscious effort to cover the other when required. Even without Torreira, they succeeded in keeping the opposition at bay simply by paying close attention to their spacing and avoiding over-committing to tackles. The trio made 11 clearances and attempted four tackles. They were also vital in playing out from the back, making a combined 258 passes.
3. Saka at left-back works
Bukayo Saka was particularly impressive on the night after an impeccable performance. The English youngster assisted Nicolas Pepe's goal with a cheeky nutmeg on the opponent and a well-placed cross. More importantly, the way in which Saka has adapted to being played out of position has been brilliant. In his role as an attacking full-back, Saka utilizes his skills as a winger but at the same time can play with more bravery given that he has Xhaka covering behind him.
Arsenal's formation itself is asymmetrical. It sees Saka playing as a left-winger, as seen in the above image, rather than left-back while Hector Bellerin, on the opposite flank, is more conservative. The focus on the left-wing brings out the best from Saka, and consequentially from his teammates on the opposite flank as well because the opponent's are unsure about how to position themselves.