Nicolas Pepe played up to his £72 million price tag for a rare time this season by scoring once and assisting twice to help Arsenal thrash Newcastle United 4-0 on Sunday.
Pepe excelled at the Emirates Stadium on an evening when Matteo Guendouzi was left on the outside looking in. The Frenchman was left out of the squad entirely by head coach Mikel Arteta and instead had to watch on while Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos impressed in his place.
Arsenal won for only the second time in the league under Arteta, but it was the Gunners' north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur who were the day's big winners. Heung-Min Son was the two-goal hero in a 3-2 win away to Aston Villa, with his second goal coming deep into stoppage time.
Son's late show moved the Lilywhites up to fifth and just a point shy of a place in the top four ahead of Chelsea's game against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
Defeat dragged Villa further into the relegation scrap, just a point above safety. It also won't help Villa's chances of keeping star schemer Jack Grealish, who is reportedly a target of Manchester United, among others, beyond this summer.
- Aston Villa 2-3 Tottenham
- Arsenal 4-0 Newcastle United
Winner: Nicolas Pepe
Arteta had spoken about the need to provide Pepe with "the right structure," per Football.London's James Benge. Arsenal's alchemy appeared spot on when Pepe turned on the style during the second half against the Magpies.
His first notable contribution was to tease in a pacy cross for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to head in and open the scoring on 54 minutes. Pepe took the responsibility himself three minutes after the restart when he got to Bukayo Saka's pinpoint delivery and finished with aplomb.
The Gunners have received this level of end product all too seldom from their club-record signing this season:
Pepe's confidence grew with his impact. His bravado also became contagious and helped those around him emerge from similar slumps.
In particular, another redemption act was complete when Pepe teed up substitute Alexandre Lacazette to end a run of eight league games without a goal deep into stoppage time:
This is the Pepe Arsenal paid for last summer, and he can live up to expectations to become the feature of Arteta's team.
Loser: Matteo Guendouzi
It's a different story for Guendouzi, whose absence from the matchday squad was timely following a disappointing display during the 0-0 draw with Burnley before the winter break.
Arteta appeared to offer an indictment of the midfielder's recent preparation work:
Carrie Brown @CarrieBrownTV
Arteta’s reasons for not including Guendouzi today hint at discipline. “The reason is that players who, in my opinion, are training better, behaving better and are more applied to deliver on the pitch, what we want, are the players selected.” #AFC #ARSNEW #Arteta @beINSPORTS_EN
Guendouzi showed plenty of initial promise after arriving from FC Lorient in 2018. Yet the 20-year-old has appeared to have hit a wall, with his decision-making becoming ponderous and his passing pedestrian.
Unfortunately for Guendouzi, Ceballos was anything but those things on his first start since November. The Spaniard recycled possession quickly and with purpose, providing much-needed support for fellow technician Mesut Ozil, whose goal summed up Arsenal's growing assurance on the ball:
Dominance of the ball is a key tenant of Arteta's philosophy, a trait he learned playing for Arsene Wenger and coaching alongside Pep Guardiola. If Ceballos proves better suited to moving the ball, Guendouzi will find himself out in the cold more often.
Winner: Heung-Min Son
Harry Kane's absence through injury has stretched Tottenham's attacking resources. It would be enough to debilitate most sides, but Spurs have more than one attacking talisman thanks to Son's brilliance.
The South Korea international's ability to deliver in the clutch was embodied perfectly when he took his goals to see off Villa. Son was unerring in front of goal two minutes into first-half stoppage time to give the visitors their first lead of the day.
He needed to hold his nerve again after Bjorn Engles had equalised for the Midlands club. Ironically, it was Engels' mistake that let Son profit when he raced clear in the 94th minute before coolly slotting the ball beyond the despairing grasp of Pepe Reina.
The finish revealed the calmness and confidence of a striker not even considering the idea he might miss. It was also just reward for the way Son tirelessly worked the Villa back line by playing on the last shoulder and regularly springing Spurs on the counter.
Son led the line brilliantly and has taken a defiant stride out of Kane's shadow.
Loser: Aston Villa's Chances of Keeping Jack Grealish
There's simply no way Villa will hold onto Grealish if the club can't ensure Premier League survival. Hopes of beating the drop look bleak after Tottenham's late winner left Dean Smith's team a point above West Ham United, who have played one fewer game.
Smith said Villa's owners "will be working very hard" to keep top players like Grealish, per Richard Fay of the Manchester Evening News. Fay named United, Leicester City and Spurs as those who will look to test Villa's resolve in the summer.
Grealish merits the lengthy list of suitors because of how often he has delivered in the final third:
His latest contribution was to put a corner onto the head of Engels for Villa's second goal. It was the signature moment of yet another display that proved Grealish is a natural No. 10 whose vision and technique are almost without equal in England's top flight.
The 24-year-old's growing maturity and consistency are sure to attract major bids once the season concludes, offers Villa may find too good to resist if the club is rebuilding after relegation.