Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang staked his claim for a role in Arsenal’s Europa League showdown with Villarreal as he struck in a routine 2-0 Premier League win at Newcastle.
The Gabon international, starting his first game after returning from a bout of malaria, struck after 66 minutes – the fifth successive game in which he has scored against the Magpies – to cement the Gunners’ 17th win in 18 outings against the Tyneside club.
It was no more than his side deserved from a dominant display which saw them go ahead through Mohamed Elneny’s first top-flight goal and never look like surrendering their advantage.
For their part, Newcastle, who had substitute Fabian Schar sent off late on, looked a shadow of the team which had eased itself away from the relegation zone with a four-game unbeaten run, and they still have work to do with Leicester and Manchester City still to play.
Mikel Arteta made eight changes to the side which ran out in the Europa League semi-final first leg clash with Villarreal, but Arsenal needed less than six minutes to force their way ahead.
David Luiz’s lofted pass put Hector Bellerin in behind the home defence and, although Aubameyang made a mess of his attempt to convert the full-back’s cross, the ball fell nicely for Elneny to blast home from 18 yards.
Aubameyang fired wide from Gabriel Martinelli’s 13th-minute near-post cross with the Magpies simply unable to break out of their own half, although as Allan Saint-Maximin started to work his way onto the game the tide was stemmed temporarily.
It was the Frenchman who prompted keeper Mat Ryan to make his first save with an effort which looped towards goal after he had run on to Matt Ritchie’s pull-back and worked his way into a shooting position.
However with Martinelli, Bellerin and Willian repeatedly exploiting the space behind Newcastle’s wing-backs, opposite number Martin Dubravka needed every inch of his sizeable frame to tip away Granit Xhaka’s 29th-minute strike before Miguel Almiron cleared Elneny’s goal-bound header off the line from the resulting corner.
The home side attempted to play much higher up the pitch after the break in a bid to find a way back into the game, although that left even more space for the visitors to run into as they countered with Dani Ceballos pulling the strings from central midfield.
Arsenal’s press was so effective that Newcastle were largely becalmed inside their own half and they finally extended their lead with 66 minutes gone, and did so in style.
An intricate passing move left Martin Odegaard in possession on the edge of the box and, when he fed the ball out to Martinelli, the winger delivered the perfect cross to the far post for Aubameyang to stab home acrobatically.
Aubameyang made way for Nicolas Pepe with 13 minutes remaining hoping he had done enough to persuade manager Mikel Arteta to retain his services for Thursday evening, and he was followed in due course by Schar, who was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Martinelli.