Ceballos and Pepe's Arsenal debuts point to bright season at the Emirates
Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe were second-half substitutes in Arsenal's 1-0 win over Newcastle - and both showed they will have a big part to play this season under Unai Emery, writes Ben Grounds.
David Luiz was an unused substitute in the win at NewcastleGetty Images
Speaking ahead of the game on Sky Sports, Jose Mourinho heaped praise on Arsenal's transfer business, saying of Nicolas Pepe's £72m deal: "I followed Lille a lot. Last season I didn’t want to go to English stadiums after being sacked by Manchester United and I went to Lille many times.
"So I know Pepe quite well, I think he’s a very, very talented player but there’s always a question mark on the time you need to adapt to come to England… French spoken, African boy, grew up in France… there’s a question mark in terms of the time of his adaptation but obviously he’s a kid with a lot of talent. I think he’s potentially a very good signing for Arsenal."
" (Dani) Ceballos… I think that they have other Ceballos in their squad. He’s a good player but they have other Ceballos. When I see Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Ceballos… they can play in different positions on the pitch and very similar characteristics."
But it was not until the second period that we saw these new recruits.
Instead, Emery put his faith in Calum Chambers and Sokratis - and despite one or two hairy moments in the first-half, Bernd Leno was not unduly troubled as Arsenal won once again on Tyneside.
Emery entrusted Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson from the outset, triggering this wonderful stat courtesy of our friends at Opta...
But it was a more familiar face who decided the contest as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang capped his 50th Premier League appearance in style as he struck the only goal in wet and windy conditions.
Shelvey was replaced by new signing Jetro Willems nine minutes into the second half, but the Dutchman was caught on his heels as Ainsley Maitland-Niles cut out an under-cooked pass out of defence, and the Arsenal full-back's cross was converted by Aubameyang's clinical dinked finish.
During an open final 10 minutes, Newcastle's new signings Allan Saint-Maximin and Joelinton both had a sight of goal, but they were unable to trouble Bernd Leno as the Gunners held on for the three points.
As Emery sought to see out the victory in the final 30 minutes, he turned to his bench and brought on three of his summer signings: Ceballos, Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli. They became the 199th, 200th and 201st players the club have used in the Premier League. So how did they get on in their cameos?
While very little can be gauged from a rather frantic final half an hour, there were one or two signs of what we can come to expect over the coming months.
Ceballos was the most encouraging of the trio from his 26 minutes on the field.
Nicolas Pepe was signed for £72m from Lille this summerGetty Images
There had been reservations about his season-long loan move from Real Madrid given there was no option to buy inserted. The feeling is that if things don't work out for the player who has courted controversy in the past, he could fade into the background in the same way Denis Suarez did last term.
But with Emery reverting to a more solid 4-3-3 system with his side ahead, Ceballos played to the left of Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi in a midfield three, and he wasted little time getting involved.
The 23-year-old showed composure on the ball, finding angles to receive the pass before carrying his runs forward, playing a lovely ball on one occasion through to Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Dani Ceballos completed 27 passes at St James' ParkGetty Images
The Spaniard lost possession cheaply on one occasion but thankfully for Arsenal, it didn't lead to a chance as Matt Ritchie lost his footing but his 86 percent passing accuracy in the opposition half was only bettered by three of his team-mates.
Ceballos - who ran 4.26km during his time on the pitch - showed great awareness to receive Mkhitaryan's pass outside the Newcastle penalty area, and in a tight space, he turned on the ball to change the play when shaping to move it right.
A player who looks like he can make a difference to this Arsenal side, Ceballos always had his head up and is one of those midfielders who is always looking over his shoulder thinking of the pass after the next.
Nicolas Pepe replaced Reiss Nelson after 71 minutesGetty Images
Ceballos showed he is capable of digging out an early pass in favour of dwelling on the ball as he set Aubameyang away down the right in the final five minutes, but the striker was unable to find Pepe in the centre.
For Emery, as Mourinho eluded to, it will come down to striking the right balance between his plethora of midfield options, and it may be that only two of Mesut Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Ceballos will be on the field at any one time.
Nicolas Pepe was given a gentle introduction and in truth saw very little of the ball despite two fast sprints - but he was not afraid of doing defensive work for his side when Arsenal needed to see out the match, winning a free-kick for his side to ease the pressure.
Pepe and Aubameyang showed their willingness to work together when they switched positions - Pepe moving from his right-side berth to the centre to keep the Newcastle defence on red alert - and it is something which Emery will encourage his forward line to do when Alexandre Lacazette is back from an ankle injury.
Gabriel Martinelli entered the fray for the final six minutes, to play on the left, but while his nervous first pass didn't find his team mate, it was another sign of Emery's willingness to give his teenagers a chance to express themselves.
Given time, all three look like they can have an impact as Arsenal made a winning start to their bid to return to the Champions League places.