THE much-trumpeted boycott did not really materialise, and neither did the new dawn that was promised by Steve Bruce. Amid all the frenzied talk of old wounds and new beginnings, this felt worryingly like business as usual at St James’ Park.

A one-goal defeat to a member of the established ‘big six’ became something of a trademark under Rafael Benitez, and sure enough, Bruce’s reign began in exactly that fashion. Losing to Arsenal is hardly a disaster, but nor it is proof of a positive break with the past.

Bruce will claim there were some good signs to emerge from his first competitive game in charge of his hometown club, and there were. Joelinton, Newcastle’s record signing following his £40m move from Hoffenheim, was busy and industrious as he made his Premier League debut, holding the ball up effectively as he led the line. Unlike some previous centre-forward signings, he looks tailor-made for the English top-flight.

The Magpies were more than a match for Arsenal in the first half, hitting the post through Jonjo Shelvey and creating a couple of other half-chances without really looking like being breached themselves. Even when they fell behind in the second, they were never at risk of being engulfed.

From Bruce’s perspective, the best thing about the afternoon was probably the attendance, 47,635, and the lack of any widescale anti-Mike Ashley protests or chants in support of Benitez. A group of around 400-or-so supporters marched from Northumberland Street in the build-up to the game, and the gate was around 4,000 lower than for the opening home match of last season. The unseasonably wet weather might have had a dampening effect, but this did not feel like the tinderbox some had anticipated.

Yet it probably says much that the absence of complete chaos can be construed as a major positive. What does it say about Newcastle’s hopes for the rest of the season if the best thing can be said about their opening game is that it was not a total meltdown?

It felt like a missed opportunity, partly because Bruce’s side were unable to build on their positive first-half performance, and partly because Arsenal are unlikely to be as weak in any of their remaining 37 matches this season. Their summer signings, David Luiz, Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos, were not deemed ready to start, and they were joined on the substitutes’ bench by Alexandre Lacazette. Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock boast plenty of promise, but if you were going to line up against Arsenal on any occasion, this was surely it.

Joelinton was the only new boy in the Newcastle ranks, and with Bruce sticking with the three centre-half formation favoured by Benitez last season, there was a sense of continuity that should have enabled the Magpies to hit the ground running. They did to an extent, but were still found wanting.

Their first-half performance contained sufficient glimpses of promise to sustain a degree of optimism for the future, with Bruce’s midfield line-up of Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff gelling nicely. It was telling that things started to unravel rapidly when Shelvey departed in the second half.

Arsenal dominated possession before the break, but it was Newcastle that fashioned the best chances. Joelinton glanced a 17th-minute header wide of the post after Matt Ritchie whipped in an inviting cross from the left, and Shelvey came within inches of breaking the deadlock three minutes later as he received a throw-in from Ritchie, spun neatly to lose his marker and drilled in a fierce low effort that was deflected onto the post.

Martin Dubravka made his only first-half save as he palmed away Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot on the turn, but the opening period ended with the lively Miguel Almiron dropping deep, spinning forward and firing a long-range strike over the crossbar. At that stage, it was a case of so far, so good.

Things changed when Shelvey went off eight minutes into the second half, with his departure sparking a series of positional alterations that left Newcastle looking extremely ragged. A lenient assessment would say it was the inevitable teething problems of a shift to a new regime. A harsher verdict would shine a more damning spotlight on Bruce and ask what on earth he was trying to achieve as time ebbed away.

The arrival of Jetro Willems certainly had a major impact on the final outcome, with the Dutchman initially lining up in midfield, then producing a game-changing error after he received his instructions from the bench and shuffled across to wing-back.

Paul Dummett’s 58th-minute pass to the flank wasn’t ideally weighted, but had Willems anticipated it better, he would still have been able to receive possession. Instead, he dawdled, enabling Ainsley Maitland-Niles to seize the ball and set off up the wing.

Maitland-Niles crossed, and with the rest of the Newcastle defence scrambling to try to get back into position, Aubameyang controlled neatly before slotting a composed finish past Dubravka.

There was still more than half-an-hour to go when the goal went in, so from a home perspective, the lack of any semblance of a fightback was one of the biggest disappointments of the afternoon. Bruce brought on Allan Saint-Maximin in an attempt to provide some attacking impetus, but the Frenchman’s introduction only served to make a ragged attempt at a comeback even more unstructured.

Lining up on the left, Saint-Maximin burst forward whenever he was in possession, but his end product was wayward and his team-mates did not seem to know what to expect. In that respect, he was reminiscent of former Middlesbrough winger Adama Traore, with his feet seeming to work faster than his brain.

Perhaps that is a harsh assessment after just half-an-hour of his Newcastle career, and Saint-Maximin will no doubt find it easier to make the right choices once he is settled with his new squad. At this stage, though, the £16.5m signing looks like the roughest of rough diamonds.

He forced Bernd Leno into a late save after cutting in from the flank, but Arsenal were able to see out the closing stages without too much fuss.

The failure to name Ki Sung-yueng on the bench looked like an oversight, with Ritchie not really able to influence the game after he was moved into the heart of midfield, and instead of leading the fightback in the closing stages, Joelinton found himself becoming increasingly isolated in attack.

The whole thing ended in a bit of a mess, which is perhaps a fitting metaphor for where Newcastle find themselves. New season; same old issues to address.