Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday December 6 2007
It's now just gone 6am, having just arrived home from the game, any prospect of sleep is compromised by the fact that I have to leave for work imminently, so I write my report now whilst still full of caffiene. It's probably a measure of how far we have come this season that this is the most deflated I have felt after a match since the defeat to West Ham back in April. As we made our long, long journey Northwards, the talk on the Travel Club coach was of how an early goal would kill Newcastle off. Newcastle are a side that is winless in six games and clearly suffering a crisis of confidence, in harmony with the fact that they cannot defend for beans. Arsenal meanwhile are still unbeaten in the league and with the chance to go six points clear at the top, well you can see where I'm going here? Having got the early goal we wished for, I'll be frank, I think Arsenal bottled it. We had a great opportunity to build on our advantage and kill Newcastle off. But some sloppiness together with some bizarre tactical shape shiftings from the manager have rendered this draw feeling like an emotional defeat.
Those that have been in the visitors enclosure at St. James' Park will realise that your match day experience is akin to watching subbuteo, the away section is entrenched high in the Gods of the North West corner. This also means no less than fourteen flights of stairs as you make your way to your seats. Fortunately, I've been enough times to know that there is a lift well hidden right next to the away turnstiles, being that I suffer from arthritis in my knees, I am afforded the mercy of a comfortable escalation. As we arrived to our seats the 3,000 strong travelling Gooners were in good voice. Our vocal chords found new recourse after just four minutes. With the first attack of the game, Lassana Diarra dispossessed N'Zogbia before flighting an inch perfect pass to Adebayor, he brilliantly chested the ball down before dispatching a powerful volley past Shay Given. The early goal we had wished for had arrived and nobody doubted we would feed on the home sides fragile confidence with solicitous gusto. But Newcastle would foreshadow the pattern of the remainder of the game in an instant. Milner took on Sagna on the right, before delivering a wicked cross which Geremi headed inches wide.
It looked as though Arsenal had set up to soak up the Geordie pressure before hitting them on the break. Perfect I thought. Diarra once again muscled Newcastle out of possession, before playing in Adebayor on the left flank, but he did not spot Eduardo's untracked run in the centre and instead forced a save from Given from a tight angle. Wenger then made a bizarre tactical misgiving, having given Eduardo all of fifteen minutes to shine upfront, he pushed the Crozilian out to the wing. It was a curious decision that handicapped us in Seville, and did so again last night. Eduardo looked understandably lost on the flank, and Adebayor could not get the requisite support to make anything happen. Why we didn't allow Eduardo to play to his strengths in the penalty area, particularly against a defence as shabby as Newcastle's, baffles me. This was the starting point of Arsenal's surrender when more bravery would have probably seen us collect three points. Arsenal's threat pretty much curtailed there, save for Gilberto's hooked effort from a Rosicky corner. It invited the home side onto us, and it was a chance they accepted with glee.
Allardyce reverted to the Bolton model, using set pieces and long throw ins to unsettle us. Alan Smith played the Kevin Davies role to perfection, that is to say he did absolutely bugger all the times he got on the ball, but used his elbows to try and rattle Gallas and Toure. Another in a catalogue of unnecesaary fouls in Smith's career saw him clatter Toure with the ball well in Almuni's grasp. But with Wenger surrendering one of our key forward outlets, the Barcodes were able to pen us in and maintain the pressure. Steven Taylor headed an N'Zogbia corner goalwards, only to see it cleared off the line by Gael Clichy. A succession of whipped crosses and long throws had the away fans gasping pensively. It got worse in the second half, still Eduardo remained on the wing and Arsenal simply could not retain the ball upfront. A rare breakaway saw Rosicky evade two Newcastle challenges, before slipping the ball wide to Eboue who smashed his shot straight at Given. In an attempt to alleviate the pressure, Sagna took a quite embarassing tumble under the challenge of Smith. For possibly the first time in his career, Smith was not guilty of leaving his foot in and Sagna was rightly booked. Had Eboue been guilty of the same misdemeanour, I'm sure a lot of Arsenal fans would be clammering for his sale, but I'm willing to wager that Sagna's crime will go somewhat ignored by most Arsenal fans.
The pressure became more intense and Newcastle snatched an equaliser that their tireless industry merited. I just can't help feeling that Arsenal invited it all on themselves. Eduardo, shrouded by his discomfort on the left wing, was crowded out by Geremi on the touchline, his cross was flicked on by Smith and Steven Taylor was unmarked on the backpost to turn the ball in off the post. The similarity between Taylor's goal and Gardner's for Villa on Saturday is cause for concern. Bendtner came on and the Gunners' had a little more presence upfront. The Gunners' probably should have had a late penalty as Rosicky and Adebayor played a one two in the box and Ade was held with the goal teasing him. Seconds later, as Arsenal poured forward on the counter attack, Adebayor was again prevented from running onto Toure's long ball as Taylor hauled him to the ground. The linesman gave nothing and incensed Wenger, as well as your writer, as he was seen having a cosy chat with Fat Sam on the touchline just seconds after the incident. Injury time became a nail chomping time high in the away section as Newcastle forced four consecutive corners, Taylor's header scrambled away by Eboue in the six yard box. But the Gunners' held out for the point, which shorn of Hleb, Fabregas and van Persie doesn't look so bad. But we are very guilty of not consolidating an early advantage and these very obtainable two points could prove very costly in the run in.LD.
Date:Thursday December 6 2007
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