Newcastle United 0 Arsenal 4
Wednesday night. Away at Newcastle. In the Beer Cup. I`m not going to even bother going into the usual "why do I do it?" shtick because it`s old ground that I`ve exhausted that well worn road repetitively on these pages. Suffice to say; when draws such as these are made nowadays, I barely even flicker in recognition. There`s never even a question as to whether I will go or not so I just do it without really thinking. These trips always have a slightly different flavour though, only four of the ten of us that sit together at away matches made the journey and with the game being played during half term, the travel club coaches resembled a school trip. Arsenal`s support on the North of England is always proudly represented at away matches, but in the League Cup, the accents are even more of a hive of cosmopolitan variety. The Yorkshire and South Wales supporters clubs are usually out in force, as are the Scottish Gooners, but badges and flags from the Manchester supporters club, Dublin and Durham were all visible. League Cup home games usually take on a more festival flavour as those that don`t usually get the chance to attend grab the opportunity with both hands. League Cup away games are no different.
Ordinarily at Newcastle, the away support is situated up in the gods; at the back of the 3rd tier of the Sir John Hall Stand- watching games up there is akin to watching subbuteo. But while the myth of Newcastle`s fanatical support trundles on in the media, the truth is the Barcodes haven`t sold out a home fixture in about 18 months. Last night, ticket sales were so sparse that they did not even open the upper tier. Pot luck for us as our vantage point was much more vertigo friendly. But Arsenal almost took a dizzying lead inside 20 seconds. Mike Williamson dithered on the ball on the edge of his own area, Rosicky snapped at his heels to dispossess him and Vela charged through the left channel but fired his shot straight at Krul when a smidgen of altruism would have seen him square to Bendtner who was in space. Carlos Vela didn`t look much like a player fighting for his place last night. Walcott`s resulting corner found its way to the back post, where Bendtner had efforts twice charged down by Williamson, before his third strike was smothered by Krul. Had we been more clinical with either of those early opportunities, the pattern for the game would have been altered. Instead, Newcastle came back into what became a very sloppy contest, low on quality.
The high line deployed by Djourou and Koscielny gave the home side encouragement as they unwittingly found the long ball to be of great vexation to Arsenal`s defence due to the fact that they had to back pedal a good ten to fifteen paces before dealing with high balls, which compromised their judgment. Newcastle were quick on the uptake that Johan Djourou was very much Arsenal`s weak link too after Nile Ranger muscled him from possession, allowing Haris Vukcic to race into the area but plundered his shot into the side netting. Danny Guthrie then curled a ball over the top of Koscielny and Nile Ranger raced away from Djourou, Ranger skipped around a rash Szczesny tackle, leaving him with an unprotected net, but Koscielny made amends with a good block. A minute later, Newcastle`s lofty tales were apparent when Vukcic`s cross was only half cleared by Eastmond, enabling Alan Smith to run onto the loose ball and crack an exocet of a shot from 20 yards which Szczesny acrobatically tipped onto the crossbar. But between spells of sloppy passing and poor control from both teams, Arsenal created another chance of their own but were again denied by individual selfishness. Eboue, now playing left back with Gibbs off injured, raced down the left, turned Ryan Taylor inside and out, giving him an avenue to the by line, Vela had an open goal had Eboue operated the empathy gene, but instead he opted to try and squeeze the ball in from an impossible angle. A lamentable act of selfishness that I hope was suitably admonished by his manager at half time.
However, with the game whirling away into half time like stray pubes into the plughole, Arsenal took a surprise lead. Walcott`s corner was half cleared by Williamson`s defensive header, but Rosicky showed great awareness to head the ball back into the danger zone where Bendtner headed goalwards. The ball trickled to the goal line where Ryan Taylor attempted to clear off the line with his head, only to clear the ball onto the back of Tim Krul`s head and into the net. A quite serendipitous goal in keeping with a low key contest. The manager pointed to it as a turning point as Newcastle`s counter attack tactics had to give way for something more adventurous. And it was that adventure that allowed Arsenal a controversial second goal. Johan Djourou`s defensive header- about the only one that he got any distance on all night- found its way all the way through a porous Magpies back line and Theo Walcott raced clear from the shoulder of the full back. Bendtner, standing in an offside position but previously uninvolved with play, then proceeded to block Mike Williamson off as he pursued Walcott, which enabled Theo the time to calmly lift the ball over the onrushing Krul for 2-0. Bendtner`s interference meant the goal should not have stood, but the officials were at least consistent, given the fact that Bendtner himself was clearly blocked off by Williamson in the first half to no avail from the referee.
Newcastle immediately tossed Andy Carroll and Jonas Gutteriez into the fray, which appeared to lend them a cutting edge. Meanwhile, Arsenal swanned about effortlessly as though the game were already won. Time and again, they lost the ball in their own third, Eastmond and Djourou in particular squandering possession in their own half through an unprofessional lack of concentration. If Vela did his cause little good through his anonymity, Djourou and Eboue looked like players that longed to be sitting comfortably back on the bench. I don`t doubt that that`s where they will be come Saturday. Fortunately, Koscielny and Szczesny took the threat of a Newcastle consolation and the uncomfortable ride that would bring seriously enough to try and stop it happening. The players` sloppiness plumbed such depths that Fabregas was introduced from the bench despite the two goal advantage, one can imagine with the intention of giving his team mates a kick up the backside. After Sagna was robbed of possession twenty yards from his own goal, Newcastle won a corner which Guthrie delivered to the back post, Williamson glanced it into the six yard area and Ryan Taylor found himself thwarted by a brave Szczesny diving at his feet. Had that gone in, I am convinced Arsenal would have conceded again.
However, instead they were able to put the tie to bed with an incisive break. Fabregas provided the very hunger he was sent on to produce when he seized on a slumbering Guthrie in the centre circle and roared forwards. He picked out Bendtner with a reverse pass to the left corner of the box, Bendtner cut in and smashed a precise shot into the top corner to seal a good night`s work for the Dane. With Chamakh impressing in his absence, Bendtner looks hungry to make up for lost time and remind us all of his quality. If only Vela, Djourou and Eboue had shown the same veracity with their chances to impress last night. Szczesny was given further reason to shine; he awkwardly palmed away a Ryan Taylor free kick. The Gunners then put a slightly undeserved sheen on the score line when Koscielny misplaced a pass to Thomas in the midfield, the ball chugged through between the Newcastle centre backs, where Walcott was again waiting. He motored away from the stricken defence before slotting a low finish past Krul for his 6th of the season. A good night`s work for Theo too, playing on the shoulder of the last defender, his timing and his touch have come on tenfold in the last year. Szczesny smuggled another good save from Carroll as Guthrie put him through on goal, whilst Joey Barton showed us all why his violent temper has seen him fall foul of the law with a couple of unnecessary and nasty challenges, designed to injure. How he was allowed to stay on the pitch I`ve no idea but he is about as welcome in English football as an unflushable turd.
In cup games, results are important and Arsenal achieved this one emphatically. Messrs Bendtner and Walcott got their shooting boots back on and there are now a bevy of forward options for a tremendously busy period coming up. But whilst Bendtner, Walcott and Szczesny took their chances to impress, Eboue, Djourou and Vela appeared to treat their own chances to stake first team places with disdain. Arsenal became incredibly lackadaisical at 2-0 and a Newcastle goal at that time would have given us an incredibly uncomfortable time. It`s concerning that chastening matches at Wigan and West Ham as well as the Spurs debacle two years ago still don`t seem to have transmitted the message to some players that they have to stay switched on at all times. Djourou is a player I rate generally speaking, but he has been a concern in his last two appearances and I think he`s shown he is very much 4th choice. He needs to appreciate the subtleties of different situations, he always, always, always, always tries to take a player on and pass when sometimes, just sometimes, a defender needs to clear his lines. He`s not thinking hard enough about his options. However, Arsenal deserved their victory and were again clinical, save for the first two minutes of the match, and with the players we seem to be putting out and the team`s left, Arsenal should fancy themselves for the competition. Cup competitions are usually won with a fair amount of fortune, having muscled aside two Premiership sides away from home, a good deal of the clutter has also been cleared for us. We should fancy our chances against any of the teams left. My preference would be for a game that doesn`t see me getting home at 4.45am!LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 27.EBOUE, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS (3.Sagna `18), 40.EASTMOND, 15.DENILSON, 7.ROSICKY(c), 14.WALCOTT, 11.VELA (4.Fabregas `69), 52.BENDTNER (41.E.Thomas `82). Unused: 21.Fabianski, 23.Arshavin, 46.Lansbury, 50.Nordveit.