Ozil's wonder goal gets Arsenal back on track, as Newcastle's winless run hits nine
LONDON -- Three thoughts from the Emirates on Arsenal's 1-0 over Newcastle in the Premier League.
1. Arsenal win but make it difficult on themselves
If someone one day writes a book about the latter years of Arsene Wenger's tenure at Arsenal, they might want to call it "They Don't Make It Easy For Themselves." Arsenal claimed a 1-0 win against a game but limited Newcastle side at the Emirates, but the closing moments were much more tense than they should have been.
Mesut Ozil's brilliant first-half volley ultimately proved the difference between the two sides, but something -- complacency, a lack of concentration, a lack of ruthlessness -- take your pick -- meant the much more convincing victory they should have secured didn't arrive.
Still, it was a win, which is more than Newcastle can boast in recent weeks. They've now lost eight of their past nine in the league and will spend the coming days hoping against hope that their much-trailed takeover will go through soon.
Jack Wilshere started for the second game in a row after his promising performance against West Ham in midweek. Wenger continued with his slightly baffling experiment of Ashley Maitland-Niles at left-back, while Alexandre Lacazette came in for Olivier Giroud up front.
Arsenal were the better side in the opening stages, but Newcastle still showed plenty of intent on the counterattack. Alexis Sanchez and Alex Iwobi went close, but they weren't given the lead until a perfect example of grace and power after about 20 minutes.
A half-clearance fell to Ozil near the edge of the box, and despite being off balance and with the time to bring the ball down, he instead chose to lift his left leg up and send a flawless volley past Rob Elliot. Newcastle had defended reasonably well until that point, but Elliot's reaction -- a small hop, turning away in disgust, hands flapping -- displayed a combination of frustration while recognising there wasn't a thing he could do about it.
Arsenal were the better team for the rest of the first half, and began the second in the same vein. But they looked like a team who thought the win was secured, and while they continued to attack, there wasn't a massive amount of urgency. Passes went a couple of yards wide of their target, shots were taken without the necessary care, dribbles held onto for just a little bit too long.
Ultimately, they held on, but it was far more nervy than it should have been.
2. Another chance for Wilshere?
Of all the players in the Premier League that get better when they're not in the team, Jack Wilshere is probably the one whose reputation grows the most.
At Arsenal, and more broadly in England, hope is clung to that one day Wilshere will become the player that some think he can be and plenty want him to be. He is often seen as the answer to assorted problems, the man to control midfields and waft that left foot like a latter-day Liam Brady.
The latest problem that Wilshere has been asked to solve is replacing Santi Cazorla. Since his Achilles injury, Arsenal have lacked a real playmaker, someone who can orchestrate and organise the team from midfield. While most hope that Cazorla will be back one day, it looks pretty unlikely that he will return to anything like his previous capabilities, if at all.
Wilshere didn't do a huge amount of dazzling work in this game, basically keeping things ticking over in midfield, with the odd driving run from deep thrown in. But the promise is there: the problem there, of course, is that could sum up his entire career.
What's perhaps frustrating is that a potentially good combination of creative talent might not have much time to knit together. Neither Alexis Sanchez nor Mesut Ozil are certain of staying at Arsenal beyond the summer, and one might leave as soon as January.
Wilshere cannot give the answers all on his own, and he might not have this kind of help for much longer.
3. Newcastle just not good enough
There can rarely ever have been a manager who looks as dissatisfied so often as Rafa Benitez. This of course is the man who offered his players constructive criticism immediately after Liverpool won the 2005 Champions League final: he's a perfectionist, and at the moment his team is probably about as far from perfection as any since his earliest days at Osasuna and Real Valladolid.
Newcastle have now collected just one point from the past nine games and are tumbling down the table quickly. Benitez spent most of the game imploring his players to do better, to show some attacking intent, to exploit the weaknesses in the Arsenal team that many others have done of late, but for the most part they simply couldn't.
To a large extent, this isn't the fault of anyone on or by the side of the pitch. This is a collection of players who either played in the Championship last season or were bought on the cheap in the summer. Mike Ashley's eventual decision to put the club up for sale was welcomed for obvious reasons, but it came a few months too late: had it passed into the hands of someone more attuned to on-pitch success in the summer, then maybe they could have properly prepared themselves for a Premier League season.
These players put in the requisite effort, and perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this game was that they actually played reasonably well without any reward. But broadly speaking, they just aren't good enough. Benitez isn't entirely blameless -- recently he has probably tinkered with both personnel and systems too much -- but he is essentially operating with one hand tied behind his back.
The takeover led by Amanda Staveley is reportedly close, and for both Benitez and his players, it can't come soon enough.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.