Suddenly it all clicked into place.
After a run of four successive Premier League draws and 45 minutes of predictable, frustrating and ineffective side-to-side football, Arsenal found their mojo.
In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t much – a 15-minute spell of domination and creativity, and a strong finish against a unadventurous Newcastle side – but the 4-0 win was more than enough to gain that elusive three points and turn all the talk into positive action.
Arsenal enjoyed a two-week break between their 0-0 draw at Burnley and Sunday’s home meeting with Newcastle. Mikel Arteta took the opportunity to take the team to Dubai for some warm-weather training, team building and camel riding.
The Gunners returned, apparently refreshed, and with Arteta talking up their chances of Champions League qualification. All it would take was a run of wins, he said. The problem is, when you’ve drawn 13 of the previous 25 league games, it becomes a habit.
But the news of Manchester City’s likely two-year ban from Uefa competitions has reinvigorated the hopes of the group of underperforming teams currently residing outside the promised land of the top four. If City are indeed banned, fifth place may be enough for a Champions League spot.
After a run of just one victory in eight Premier League games at the Emirates Stadium, the visit of Newcastle was a must-win.
A look at the team sheet therefore provided a surprise, with Arteta leaving Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli on the bench in favour of 20-year-old striker Eddie Nketiah. Previously a regular starter, Matteo Guendouzi was banished from the squad entirely, while Lucas Torreira was only introduced inside the final 10 minutes for Dani Ceballos.
During the first half it was unclear what Arteta and his players had been working on during their 14 days off.
Newcastle had much the better of the opening exchanges, with Bernd Leno called on to push Sean Longstaff’s deflected volley around the post and Joelinton poking wide from Allan Saint-Maximin’s cross.
Granit Xhaka’s early booking for a cynical pull on Valentino Lazaro reinforced the pervasive feeling inside the stadium that it might be another one of those days for Arsenal.
Nicolas Pepe was tied up by Danny Rose, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s impact was diminished on the left-hand side of the 4-2-3-1 formation, with the attacking onus left on Bukayo Saka, an 18-year-old winger playing at left-back.
It took 31 minutes for the Gunners to muster a shot on target, Aubameyang shooting tamely straight into Martin Dubravka’s gloves, and there appeared little optimism as the whistle blew for half-time.
In his playing days Arteta was a stylish central midfielder. He had a full-blooded tackle in him, but it was far from his calling card. However, as a manager the Spaniard is already gaining a reputation as an authoritarian.
Whatever he said inside the changing room at half-time worked. Arsenal flew out of the blocks after the break, pinning back Newcastle’s 5-4-1 formation with a sustained period of pressure which ultimately won the game.
Mesut Ozil, who was quiet in the first half, began to dictate the tempo alongside Ceballos and the home team should have been ahead when Pepe crossed for Nketiah, but the young striker skimmed the crossbar with his volley.
They wouldn’t have to wait long, though. With no pressure on the ball, Pepe dinked to the back post, where Aubameyang rose unchallenged between Lazaro and Federico Fernandez to nod in. Minutes later Saka nutmegged Lazaro and squared for Pepe to bobble in a second and the game was over as a contest.
The irrepressible Saint-Maximin struck the base of the post, but Steve Bruce’s side fell apart late on as the Gunners rubbed salt into the wounds.
Ozil somehow bundled a tame effort past Dubravka before Arsenal’s change of fortunes was summed up by the final goal – Lacazette firing in a flukey fourth off his standing foot.
They are still 10th. They are still seven points off fourth-placed Chelsea, who play tonight, and six off Tottenham in fifth. But the tide of identikit draws has turned. Arsenal fans will hope that the only way is up.