There was none of the Newcastle battening down of hatches that has provoked such questioning of the manager and a more expansive kind of football to which a sluggish, slack and tentative Arsenal looked vulnerable to.
Diame ran that first half, delivering to the flanks with metronomic accuracy and providing an imposing physical presence. Jacob Murphy, operating on the left, looked most likely to capitalise. Matt Ritchie delivered with the same accuracy from the right. Briefly, all thought of the summer’s mere £20m outlay in the transfer market melted away. Murphy’s header on 21 minutes required the best of Petr Cech’s instincts when palmed away.
Arsenal were stumbling around in a fog, with Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang weak and pitifully loose in possession down their left and the rear-guard constantly vulnerable to an error. A slip by Shkrodan Mustafi allowed Murphy to collect and race in on goal but Sokratis managed to clear the danger.
The enterprise of the opening period had required some last-third quality to translate into goals, though the brutal truth is that Benitez’s side lacked it. It took a simple ratcheting up of Arsenal intensity to wrap up what had started to become an uncomfortable afternoon for them.
Only three minutes of the second half had passed when Arsenal eased ahead after the re-start. A foul by Federico Fernandez in front of the area brought a free kick which Xhaka stepped up to, curling into the top left hand corner of Martin Dubravka’s net.
The second came nine minutes later. An Alexandre Lacazette shot was blocked out to Mesut Ozil, whose shot evaded the dive of Dubravka, who got a touch to it.
By no means do Arsenal look invincible. Cech’s hapless attempts to play a ball out of defence with a left-foot pass early in the first half exposed a side and a player still adjusting to the way Unai Emery wants them to play. Cech does not look like a sweeper- keeper.
Aaron Ramsey’s deployment in an advance position looks questionable too, removing the influence he can create deeper in midfield.
Emery’s defence went missing in the 90th minute when Ciaran Clark sauntered in to convert a Fernandez cross from the right. But the months ahead look like they will bring a too-familiar struggle era. A further nine months here will surely be the limit of Benitez’s appetite for a task like this. If West Ham implosion under Manuel Pellegrini persists, he may well find himself tempted sooner. It may then a question of which is the less of two evils.