Following Tuesday's night's humbling in the Marshlands, it was imperitive to get a good result against Newcastle, not just in terms of progressing in the F.A. Cup, but a defeat could have had disastrous consequences on the rest of our season. I think the team Wenger selected, virtually full strength, exemplified this. The Geordies brought 5,000 fans with them (they were entitled to a further 3,000 seats but could not sell them) and their contribution to the atmosphere was paltry. It drives me to distraction this utter myth about their raw passion and boisterous support.
Keegan stayed true to his promise of cavalier football, as there was plenty of space on offer for the Gunners in the final third of the pitch. However, the correct injection of urgency was not there in the opening 45 minutes. One couldn't help but think the benched Alex Hleb would have revelled in the space between the away side's midfield and defence. Arsenal exploited a gap early on, Clichy's long diagonal ball towards the onrushing Fabregas just missed the Catalonian's boot as he sought to flick it beyond Given. But the hosts began to take the game to Arsenal and forced the first clear cut opportunity. The Arsenal defence did not clear an N'Zogbia corner, Alan Smith turned and hooked the ball goalwards, only to see Gael Clichy superbly head it off the line. The Barcodes had a taste for goal and Milner and Carr worked an angle down the right hand side, Carr put a low cross across Arsenal's six yard box, but thankfully the chance fell to Michael Owen who, true to form, missed badly.
But Arsenal heeded the warning and began to gather some momentum. Diaby carried the ball forwards, Butt's crunching tackle saw the ball spin towards Steven Taylor on the edge of his own area, Taylor misjudged the flight of the ball and Eduardo sent a quickfire volley towards goal which Given comfortably beat away. The game was becoming an end to end affair, another Newcastle set piece was not cleared properly by Eduardo, Duff lopped the ball over the defence and Steven Taylor's header surfed onto the roof of the net. In first half injury time, Fabregas, who looked to be back into his early season pomp, sent a ball to Diaby who spun away from Butt brilliantly, before sending a curling shot towards goal which Given tipped over. It was an absorbing first half, but you felt Arsenal had a couple of gears left in them.
The Gunners began to glide through those gears, Walcott, who had been forced out wide by yet another Rosicky injury, played more as an auxilary striker, playing on the shoulder of the full back. Eduardo took a slightly wider berth as well as Arsenal looked to stretch Newcastle. It worked a treat, Fabregas ran into space between defence and midfiled and a delightful touch found the bouyant Eduardo, the Crozilian opened his body out and curled a low shot against the foot of the post. The rebound fell to Adebayor, who shifted the ball onto his left foot and smashed it past Given. The transformation in Ade's finishing over the last two years has been sensational, it is now hard to believe that Ade once had a reputation for missing sitters. The guy has taken another giant leap forward this season and this goal was the perfect apology for his lunacy on Tuesday night.
The confidence visibly sapped from the visitors thereafter, for all the craft of N'Zogbia and Duff, Smith and Owen were proving to be the most impotent strikeforce in living memory. Arsenal began to draw on their one touch football. Hleb found Cesc in the area, he gorgeously turned the ball round to Eduardo in the six yard area, but Cacapa made an exceptional last ditch block. It was a matter of time before the second and typically Hleb was at the heart of the move which yielded the deciding goal. He moved down the elft and played the ball into Adebayor, he span past Cacapa, beat Butt before Eduardo neatly blocked off Cacapa, moved the ball past Stephen Carr before firing a low shot into the net via Steven Taylor's shins. Chants of 'you're getting sacked in the morning' rose up from the red section in mocking of the kamikaze running of our visitors. There was time for a third when Fabregas' free kick saw Eduardo lurking with intent and Nicky Butt had little recourse but to head the ball into his own net. When this happens I am always struck by Arsenal's gentlemanly decorum, we must be the only ground in the country that does not announce the name of the own goal scorer over the tannoy. (Unlike our less classy hosts on Tuesday night, who announced Bendtner's name with an all too apparent glee).
Ade nearly had time to grab a deserved hat trick. Hleb crossed to him on the left, Ade twisted and turned beyond a maze of black and white shirts, throwing themselves at the Togonator's feet like desperate soldiers seeking to smother a landmine and bear its terrible brunt. Alas, Given sprawled to save from close range. This sees us safely through to the next round and with the littany of possible lower league opponents, it is hard not to get excited about the prospect of a trip to Preston or Bristol (such is the insanity of the football fan!) But this time, my ideal scenario? The Spuds draw today, taking United to an unwanted replay, which Tottenham win so we can obtain some revenge!
Back to the Newcastle game and there were a number of positives. Philippe Senderos had a very assured game, proving my suspicion that he needs a decent run of games to truly show his class. Theo Walcott, though still short of confidence, looked much more dangerous palying as a wide front man. Eduardo seems to have grown in stature, whilst he was adapting, I think we could all live with his penchant for doing precisely bugger all in a game other than scoring, he has shown some devastating skill and was involved positively in all three of our goals. His all round contribution is growing. Fabregas looks to be back to his swaggering best after an indifferent return from his pre Christmas injury, Flamini continues to impress. But the biggest positive has to be Adebayor who is really turning into some player, no longer merely a target man, his ball control and the variety of threat he provides defenders makes him a real handful. Which brings me finally to Sky Sports, my esteemed editor texted me as I made my way home to inform me that they have been plundering our material and mining our variety of Adebayor puns for their own gain! Mr. Murdoch, I await the royalties cheque, for we are the Adebay-originals.LD.