Steve Bruce’s reign as Newcastle United manager began in disappointing fashion as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second-half goal sealed a 1-0 victory for Arsenal at a subdued St James’ Park on Sunday.
After a largely forgettable first half in which Newcastle were slightly the better side, Arsenal eased to a comfortable three points thanks to Aubameyang’s 58th minute strike.
Newcastle handed 40 million pounds ($48.14 million) record signing Joelinton a debut up front and he showed some flashes of intent in the first half but the hosts fizzled out after the break.
The Gunners had to wait until April to keep their first away clean sheet in the Premier League last season, but looked solid as they opened their campaign in far better fashion than a year ago when consecutive defeats marked the start of Unai Emery’s tenure following the end of the Arsene Wenger era.
The closest Newcastle came to scoring was in the first half when Jonjo Shelvey’s powerful shot glanced the upright.
“It is always positive for all the squad to win the first game, everyone is happy to get three points and we’re looking forward to winning more games,” Aubameyang said.
The Gabonese frontman has now scored 33 goals in 50 Premier League appearances since joining Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund in February 2018 with only Liverpool’s Mo Salah (36) having scored more league goals in that period.
Heavy pre-match rain and dark skies matched the mood around the stadium which was nowhere near its 52,000 capacity with some disgruntled fans answering the call for a boycott as disenchantment at Mike Ashley’s ownership continues.
While Newcastle have spent in the transfer window, for many fans it has failed to make up for the loss of popular manager Rafa Benitez who left in June having failed to agree a new contract.
Sunday’s gate was 4,000 down on last season’s home average.
The experienced Bruce’s appointment has not exactly sparked the passion of the fans either and there was little energy coming from the stands throughout a cagey clash.
Bruce’s team at least tried to lift the mood in a largely uneventful first half.
Brazilian number nine Joelinton showed flashes of menace, heading one effort wide and then wriggling through to fire in a shot saved by Bernd Leno. Shelvey also struck the woodwork with a deflected shot as Arsenal struggled for tempo.
Arsenal looked more eager after the break and took the lead with a goal of clinical simplicity.
A sloppy pass was intercepted by Ainsley Maitland-Niles inside his own half and he burst forward before picking out Aubameyang who took a sublime touch before guiding a cool finish beyond advancing keeper Martin Dubravka.
Newcastle offered nothing in response and the Gunners introduced three of their close-season signings — on-loan Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos, Ivory Coast striker Nicolas Pepe and Brazilian teenager Gabriel Martinelli — off the bench.
With such an influx of exciting talent now available to Emery, Arsenal will move forward full of optimism but for Newcastle, and local boy Bruce, it already appears as though it could be a long, hard season.