Nuno Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu bringing chaos and calm to improving Arsenal

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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Nuno Tavares
    Portuguese association football player
  • Mikel Arteta
    Mikel Arteta
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  • Takehiro Tomiyasu
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
Nuno Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu bringing chaos and calm to improving Arsenal - GETTY IMAGES
Nuno Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu bringing chaos and calm to improving Arsenal - GETTY IMAGES

A stodgy first half at the Emirates Stadium was memorable for the unusual sound that could be heard when Nuno Tavares received the ball a few minutes before the break. In an unexpected twist on the customary demands of players to strike the ball towards goal, a significant number of Arsenal supporters instead implored their left-back to refrain.

“Don’t shoot!” does not quite have the same ring to it, as a collective noise within a stadium, but Mikel Arteta would no doubt have agreed with the home crowd’s assessment. Tavares had spent much of the first half leathering the ball from range, with either foot, and those efforts invariably came closer to leaving the stadium than finding the net.

Tavares, in his first season in the Premier League, is showing himself to be a strange, thrilling, unpredictable and totally chaotic player. Newcastle United’s defenders had no idea as to what the 21-year-old would do with the ball on Saturday, which is almost certainly because Tavares himself seemed to have no idea either. In a team that seeks to play a brand of defined and choreographed football, Tavares appears to operate entirely off the cuff.

This should not be read as a criticism, because Tavares has been routinely impressive in an Arsenal shirt and was crucial to this victory on Saturday. In the build-up to Bukayo Saka’s opening goal, which Tavares assisted, the left-back had roamed wildly into a striking position, and then dropped into central midfield. Again, he seemed to be following his own instincts rather than a prescribed tactical plan.

Clearly, there are times when this will not work out for Arsenal or for Tavares, who was signed from Benfica as a £7 million backup option this summer. At Anfield last week, he produced a gorgeous, defence-splitting pass for Liverpool striker Diogo Jota, who scored.

There are evidently more reliable options at Arteta’s disposal, namely Kieran Tierney. But Tavares has kept his place in recent games despite Tierney’s return from injury, and Arteta must have felt vindicated when the Portuguese opened up Newcastle’s defence for Saka’s goal.

Arteta had also kept faith in Albert Sambi Lokonga, another youngster who endured a difficult night against Liverpool. Lokonga was one of Arsenal’s most impressive performers against Newcastle, controlling the pace of the game and producing a series of terrific passes.

“You have to trust them and it gives them confidence even after difficult moments,” said Arteta of keeping the two new arrivals in the side. “If not, it is not real [trust]. They were given another chance and they have done it because they showed during the week how hurt they were after that defeat and how willing they were to put it right.”

It helped Arsenal’s balance as a team that Takehiro Tomiyasu offered a far more predictable dependability on the other side of the defence. If Tavares brings chaos, then Tomiyasu brings calm. The Japanese right-back is more steady in possession and less likely to rampage forward, although he also had a couple of wild shots from range in the first half.

Tomiyasu is primarily a defensive-minded player but he displayed his attacking vision by creating the second for Arsenal, scored by Gabriel Martinelli, with a delicate chip over the visiting defence.

Nuno Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu bringing chaos and calm to improving Arsenal - AFP
Nuno Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu bringing chaos and calm to improving Arsenal - AFP

For both goals to be assisted by Arsenal’s full-backs was an indication of Newcastle’s game-plan. Eddie Howe set his team up in a deep-lying defensive structure, and they funnelled the play towards Arsenal’s flanks. As a strategy it worked well in the first half, when Tavares kept ruining Arsenal’s rhythm by smashing the ball towards Finsbury Park, but gradually the visitors were worn down.

A return of zero wins from 13 games is concerning in the extreme for Newcastle, and they offered little of substance at the Emirates. Aside from a handful of long-range efforts, their only real chance was an opportunity for Callum Wilson, who did not earn the penalty he felt he deserved in the second half. Inevitably enough, it was Tavares who had challenged him in the box.

“We were solid during the game,” said Martin Dubravka, the Newcastle goalkeeper. Which was largely true, but the problem is that their solidity came at the cost of any sort of attacking threat. On Tuesday they face Norwich City at home in a match that must surely be the turning point of their season, at least until the cavalry arrives in the January transfer window. “We need to get that win as quickly as we can,” said Howe.

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