Arsenal 0-1 NUFC: Art beaten by Graft

Posted: November 8, 2010 in Blogs
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Seven days ago Newcastle surprised the rest of the country, rampaging their way to the biggest derby victory over local rivals Sunderland in over 50 years. Today they ended the week in similarly surprising circumstances at The Emirates. Once again, Newcastle’s players awoke to negative stories regarding their private lives and once again the allegations acted as a catalyst, spurring the Magpies on to another impressive performance and one that fully warranted the 3 points that fire Newcastle into 5th place in the league. Only 11 days ago, the two sides met at St James’ Park in the Carling Cup. The 0-4 scoreline on that night was harsh on a young Newcastle side yet anyone believing today’s league meeting would result in a victory of similar ease for the Gunner’s was sadly mistaken. The two teams made several changes from their Carling Cup lineups, with both fielding near full-strength sides.

Newcastle lined up unchanged from their recent Premier League victories over West Ham and Sunderland; a surprise to many as that meant the retention of Shola Ameobi in a 4-4-2 formation when some thought Chris Hughton might revert to 4-5-1 in the hope of nullifying Arsenal’s excellent midfield. Perhaps inspired by West Brom’s recent victory at The Emirates, Hughton made the decision to attack Arsenal, albeit mostly on the counter. Newcastle’s hard working team of 10 Championship battle-hardened players plus summer recruit Cheik Tiote were at it from the start, harrying their Champions League opponents at every available opportunity. The increasingly impressive Jonas Gutierrez and reformed Joey Barton stuck to their defensive tasks well throughout, constantly pressing the advancing Arsenal fullbacks Sagna and Clichy respectively, forcing them to send the ball into the centre of the park towards captain and playmaker Cesc Fabregas. That Fabregas had one of his poorest games in an Arsenal shirt was partly down to a lack of fitness, but also due in no small part to the excellent performance of his tireless opponent Cheik Tiote, who once again demonstrated his incredible composure in a sensational display. Andy Carroll may have won SkySports bottle of Champagne, but if Tiote was either a) English or b) Constantly in the headlines, he would surely have walked away with the man-of-the-match prize.

Mister T(iote) had Arsenal captain Fabregas in his metaphorical pocket

The Ivorian yet again nullified the attacking threat of his opposing midfield counterparts – adding Fabregas to his long list that already includes the likes of Cattermole, Parker and Arteta – before commencing Newcastle counter-attacks with his wide range of precise passing. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon was that Tiote wasn’t playing for the home side, such is the success of Arsene Wenger’s scouting network, particularly on the African continent.

After the opening ten minutes, in which Newcastle looked more like the home side, with lengthy spells of possession, Arsenal came back into the game, carving out some half-chances through Marouane Chamakh and a deflected Fabregas free kick that struck the crossbar from 25 yards, with Tim Krul beaten. Yet for Arsenal’s domination, the Gunners could not create any meaningful chances, often being guilty of overplaying when trying to pick the perfect pass around the edge of Newcastle’s box. Newcastle too, offered little on their sporadic counter-attacks, with Gutierrez going down rather easily under a Bacary Sagna challenge in the Arsenal area the only real threat to Arsenal’s goal in the opening half hour. Ten minutes before the interval however, and the first real chance of the match arrived. A Fabregas cutback found Samir Nasri on the edge of Newcastle’s 18-yard box. His venomous first time shot curled round two players before heading toward the top corner to apparently break the deadlock only for Flying Dutchman Tim Krul to leap through the air and divert the ball safely over his crossbar with a fantastic right-handed save. Arsenal’s resulting corner was one of several flagkicks for the Gunners in either half, yet they all came to nothing, with the added height of Newcastle’s two strikers consistently heading the ball away from danger alongside the formidable centre-back partnership of Williamson and Coloccini – both have started all 11 league games for the Magpies.

When Newcastle were awarded a free kick in the middle of the park in added time at the end of the first period, it seemed like an opportunity for United to waste some time and get into the break all square at 0-0. Arsenal fans started to head for the bars for their half-time refreshments when Joey Barton lofted the ball quarterback-style deep into the Arsenal box. Newcastle’s towering number 9 was the obvious target and when Arsenal’s Polish ‘keeper Fabianski came half-heartedly to collect the ball, Carroll obliged by leaping above his marker and planting a firm header past the stranded Pole and into the Arsenal net to give the Mags a halftime lead. That Carroll sprinted to celebrate with gaffer Chris Hughton in front of the away dugout shows the player’s unwavering support of the somehow under-fire Irishman.

Carroll may be no Angel, but his reputation and stature in the North-East is now comparable to that of the Gateshead landmark

In the second half, Arsenal further dominated possession as they looked to close the gap between themselves and league-leaders Chelsea to just two points. With five minutes of the second period gone, Newcastle’s Carling Cup tormentor Theo Walcott threatened to level proceedings, as he cut inside from the right flank, nutmegging Moroccan teammate Chamakh before firing a powerful effort onto Krul’s crossbar that rebounded away to relative safety. As the home fans grew impatient, Wenger rang the changes, introducing the returning Van Persie and the previously ever-present Andrei Arshavin to boost their firepower just before the hour mark. A succession of corners aside, however, and their introduction had little impact, with Newcastle continuing to frustrate their opponents as the match wore on. As Arsenal’s impatience increased, so did their reliance on uncharacteristically pumping the ball high into the box; a tactic that paid no dividends with the Magpies easily coping with any aerial threat placed in front of them. As the game entered the final quarter of an hour, Newcastle gained more possession of the ball and with it, territorial advantage.

Newcastle substitute and boyhood Arsenal fan Nile Ranger entered the fray with 8 minutes remaining, replacing the again fantastic Shola Ameobi. Soon after, Ranger almost broke his Premier League scoring duck in spectacular fashion, blazing a good bicycle-kick effort over Fabianski’s bar from 10 yards out. Moments later, Ranger was involved again as he latched onto a long ball on the right wing, turning Koscielny on the touchline with ease, before racing toward the Arsenal goal. With Koscielny sensing danger and situated on the wrong side of Ranger, he hauled down the Newcastle striker, receiving a red card in the process, adjudged to be the last man, denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. It proved to be the last meaningful act of the game, as Newcastle won at The Emirates for the first time since it opened in 2006 and for the first time at any Arsenal ground since 2001.

“Overall, though, I still believe we were very unlucky to lose the game, they had one shot on target. We hit the woodwork two or three times and their keeper made a very good save.”

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger may have had some grievances about both the red card and the scoreline but in reality, Newcastle defended magnificently, only allowing Arsenal to test Krul twice, with Nasri’s rasper and a diving header from Fabregas the only real moments of concern for the young Dutch stopper, crossbar-bound efforts aside. Newcastle may have only had one shot on target but that was all they needed. All over the pitch, Newcastle had eleven heroes, with every single player in black and white turning in spirited, determined performances. Special mention goes however, to Williamson; a colossus throughout, Enrique; who made Walcott look average, Tiote; simply sensational, and Carroll, who continued to push for an England call-up with an all action display that belied his lack of experience.

Carroll led the line magnificently at The Emirates and fully deserved his goal

Newcastle once again proved that they are more than a match for teams on the road and especially those with more quality that allow Newcastle space to break into. However, whilst good away wins at Everton and Arsenal have proven that Newcastle’s gutsy determination and graft is capable of beating quality, they have yet to show that they have the quality required to beat similar teams that graft. Home defeats to Blackpool and Stoke and a draw against an inconsistent Wigan side have all shown flaws in Newcastle’s ability to break down teams that defend deep and put 10 men behind the ball, as Newcastle themselves do away from home. It seems that Chris Hughton has managed to get the best out of players that his several predecessors couldn’t (Barton in particular) and this is proving invaluable on the road, where the Mags have already exceeded their total of away wins from the entire 2008/09 season. It is, however, home games against the likes of Blackburn and Fulham – up next for Newcastle – that will determine their fate this season. So whilst Newcastle’s incredible away record continues, with the Toon’s graft defeating the artful quality of Arsenal, the question remains, do Newcastle have the quality to beat the ‘lesser’, grafting sides at St James’ Park? Only time will tell.

  1. Tim says:

    A nice-write up – fair and balanced. (And I say this as a Gooner.)

    All credit to your boys yesterday. Even though you didn’t create many chances, Carroll was more than a handful for our fragile back line. And, as you say, Tiote – who I must confess I’ve never really seen before – was very impressive.

    I know Wenger complained about Koscielny’s red card, but it seemed OK to me. Maybe Squillaci might just have got round to cover, but it was a clear and cynical tug by a defender who knew he had been beaten. Regardless, it had zero impact on the result, which at least Arsene acknowledged.

    I’m not sure we’ll see Arsenal perform much worse all season. Yes, injuries played a part. Bad luck too. But the reality was you pressed hard and we created very little, so I would say the result was as much about your good play as it was our lacklustre performance.

    And when is Ashley going to give Hughton a new deal? Surely at least a 12-month rolling contract is in order?

    • fergie says:

      Cheers! I agree, I think some Arsenal fans are being a bit harsh on your own team’s performance. Newcastle’s excellent defensive display limited you to few clear-cut chances. The problem you have is that you don’t seem to have a Plan B to break teams down, probably because Plan A works so often!

      We are the same at home against the teams that sit back and defend. We don’t know how to break them down, the fans get edgy and that transers onto the pitch.

      As for Hughton, god knows whats going on in Newcastle’s boardroom. I think the whole country would like to see him get a new contract except, seemingly, for Mike Ashley!

  2. Tim says:

    Ah yes, Plan B. You’re right: we never seem to have one. As a team, we’ve never really been the most tactically flexible – personally, I think it’s Wenger’s single biggest failing. But hey, everyone has a flaw, right?

    Mind you, from the way some Arsenal ‘fans’ react to any setback, slagging off the team and demanding a new manager whose ambitions match their own, you would think Arsene Wenger was the worst boss in the history of, well, history itself. Seriously. The funniest thing I’ve read today was someone claiming he was organising a boycott of 6,000 fans for the next home match, so determined is he to get Wenger sacked. (I suspect he doesn’t get out much.)

    Good luck for the rest of the season, anyway. Hopefully we can return the compliment up at SJP in February. 😉

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