Nicolas Pepe had a goal and two assists as Arsenal handled Newcastle United 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil scored the other goals as Arsenal moved into 10th place, seven points back of the top four.
It was a tale of two very different halves for Newcastle, who entered the day even with Arsenal on 31 points, and leaves it in 13th place. The Magpies were very good in the opening 45, and dismantled in the second stanza.
1. Arsenal defense finally approaching Leno’s level: There were moments for Newcastle’s tricky wide men, but Mikel Arteta‘s defense continued its improvement under his watch. Bernd Leno saved Arsenal’s lives on so many cases earlier in the season, and he’s finding life a lot easier as the Arteta era finds its footing.
2. Pepe powers Gunners attack: Nicolas Pepe entered the day leading Arsenal in assists and dribbles per game, and was second in key passes despite starting just 14 of his 21 appearances. Mikel Arteta trusted the Ivorian on Sunday, and boy did he deliver the goods in being involved in all four goals. But there’s so much more.
Pepe was credited with four key passes and three big chances created, winning 7 of 13 duels with an interception and two tackles. Three of his seven crosses were on target and he passed the ball at 83 percent.
3. Saka continues to impress: We’ve had to remind ourselves that Bukayo Saka is still just a teenager so many times this season. The 18-year-old burst onto the scene as a fun winger, but has become an able left back with incredible threat moving forward. The Gunners have a wealth of fine young players with promise. Imagine if they’ve found the boss to organize them.
☠️☠️☠️ Bukayo Saka beats Miguel Almiron and Valentino Lazaro with the drop of a shoulder and a nutmeg, then crosses for Pepe to slot home. Outrageous skill from the teenager. pic.twitter.com/YIjnE3jxdr
— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) February 16, 2020
Man of the Match: Pepe, with notes of appreciation for Saka, Saint-Maximin, and Aubameyang.
Arsenal held the ball for most of the first four minutes, but Joelinton drove past Shkrodan Mustafi to pick out Valentino Lazaro, whose shot was blocked for a corner.
Allan Saint-Maximin wanted a penalty call when fouled by Granit Xhaka, but neither Lee Mason not VAR thought it the case.
A training ground routine off a corner kick led to a Sean Longstaff rip from 25 yards, and Leno had to act quickly to stymy a deflected effort.
Joelinton then just missed a near-post chance after a bit of Saint-Maximin wizardry. The Frenchman soon drew a dangerous free kick that Longstaff sent into orbit.
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The game was wide open, Bukayo Saka missing with an arrow meant for the upper 90 and Miguel Almiron wasting the end of a long, wonderful dribble.
Arsenal grew into the game and Eddie Nketiah looked more and more dangerous in tearing into a shot that Dubravka caught in the 38th. Dubravka then tipped a Nicolas Pepe free kick over the bar.
Saint-Maximin then dribbled the Arsenal team to push a pass through the six, but Joelinton was hobbled and didn’t follow the play.
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Arsenal burst out of the halftime gates and Nicolas Pepe set up Nketiah for a point-blank chance cranked off the top of the crossbar.
Aubameyang pushed Arsenal onto the score sheet in the 54th minute, heading home from close range after a terrific Pepe cross.
Pepe got on the board soon after, the Ivorian star igniting the Gunners.
Ciaran Clark ripped a Saint-Maximin pass that was deflected out for a corner, and Saint-Maximin later smashed the far post with a shot from distance.
The third Arsenal goal was a Dubravka error. Ozil led a rush and spotted Pepe, who passed to Lacazette before Ozil pushed a clumsy shot to goal that defied Newcastle’s star keeper.
Pepe was back involved in the fourth, Joe Willock‘s incisive pass to the winger doing the heavy lifting en route to Lacazette’s finish.