Newcastle 0-0 Arsenal
The Short Report
This stalemate may have lacked the drama of last season’s fixture at St James’ Park, but was every bit as frustrating. Lots of possession and a solid defensive display were undermined by toothless attacking and allowing ourselves to rise to the bait offered by the toxic Joey Barton.
The AL Report
It’s hard to look back on this game with anything other than an eerie sense of deja-vu. In 2010, we endured a summer of speculation involving Cesc Fabregas and began by drawing a tricky away game. Having utterly dominated possession, we created few clear-cut chances and finished the game with 10 men after a new signing from France was sent off on his debut.
Swap Anfield and Laurent Koscielny with St James’ Park and Gervinho and the circumstances are almost identical. Although this time round, the fans are even more disgruntled and we had to contend with Joey Barton ensuring that an otherwise forgettable match would be remembered for his poisonous behaviour.
We lined up pretty much as expected, with Tomas Rosicky taking Jack Wilshere’s place in the heart of midfield and Gervinho given his first taste of English football as part of an attacking trident with Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin.
The first half was a familiar tale of us having much of the ball without really threatening. Gervinho looked dangerous and was given license to roam on both flanks, but his promising approach play lacked an end product. Our best chance came a few minutes before half-time, but van Persie was unable to control Arshavin’s exquisite lofted pass.
Alan Pardew changed things around at the break, bringing on Gabriel Obertan for Demba Ba, matching our 4-5-1 formation and making Newcastle much more competitive in the second half. The contest gradually became more niggly as Alex Song got away with a petulant stamp on Barton. It was a foolish act that could well see him banned when the FA pore over events on Monday.
Our best chance of the half was squandered by substitute Theo Walcott at the end of a well-crafted move, but he could only scuff Aaron Ramsey’s lay-off straight into the hands of Tim Krul. Then the madness kicked in. Gervinho appeared to go down easily after being tripped in the box by Chiek Tiote (although replays showed we were unlucky not to get a penalty). Barton dragged him to his feet, sparking off a nasty scuffle in which the philosophy-loving tweeter collapsed like he’d been shot after a slap by the Ivorian. Gervinho received his marching orders and Barton escaped with a yellow card, insisting he’d been punched.
Although we never looked like crumbling as we did here last season, it left a nasty taste in the mouth and we appeared content to settle for a draw. Chants of “spend some fucking money” were heard loud and clear from the away end. Far be it from me to criticise our magnificent away support, but it wasn’t a great time to make a political point when we were trying to hang on with ten men.
To end on a positive note, we were very solid at the back. Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen were composed throughout and Wojciech Szczesny was reassuringly decisive, especially at set-pieces.
Next up: a crucial Champions League qualifier at home to Udinese.
Man of the Match
Not easy to pick, but Gervinho was easily our most threatening player. Given license to roam, he caused the Toon defence all sorts of trouble, especially in the first half. Sadly, his debut will be remembered for a needless sending off which means he will miss Liverpool at home and the daunting trip to Old Traford at the end of the month.
Aaron Ramsey is set to play a much more prominent role this season, but a great pass to Theo Walcott aside, he was pretty ineffective today. He was lacking his usual assurance on the ball and conceded possession cheaply on occasions.
Moan of the Match
Why on earth were our players lining up to shake hands and hug Barton at the end of the game? It made me long for the days when teams were so intimidated, they would already be beaten in the tunnel. Nowadays, we are just too nice.
The Final Word
An away draw is not the worst start to the season, but in these crazy times every set-back is amplified. Failure to qualify for the Champions League is unthinkable, so whatever your problems with Wenger and the board, please leave them outside the stadium on Tuesday night and give the team your full support.
Image: World of Good via Flickr (reproduced using Creative Commons License)
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