Arsenal 0 Newcastle United 1
Travelling to the game, none of us had any conviction in the prospects of Arsenal victory. In fact, Hon Jon went as far to predict an Arsenal defeat at the hands of Andy Carroll followed by a Chelsea victory. Why oh why did you give up being a bookie? I felt that since the win at City, Arsenal had begun to show that very unpleasant side to their game that one sees in this Arsenal team after a run of victories. Bertie Big Bo**ocks syndrome, winning a few games and thinking you`ve made it. It`s so disappointing that the team confirmed every single one of those fears today. The team selection didn`t look right to me from the start, leaving Arshavin on the bench in favour of Walcott looked an odd choice considering Newcastle were always going to get ten men behind the ball. I accept I am not privy to Arshavin`s health, but surely Rosicky would have been a better choice than a pace merchant who, in fairness to him, was never going to get any kind of space in behind the defence.
The first half was again a sluggish effort from the team, as most of our first halves have been of late. It took 15 minutes to muster an effort of any kind. Wilshere probed forwards and drew the foul from Coloccini 25 yards from goal. Fabregas clipped the free kick goalwards, which glanced Andy Carroll`s head and travelled onto the crossbar and out. It sparked the briefest of flurries for Arsenal, Cesc ran onto Song`s pass into the right channel, pirouetted past Coloccini and Williamson only to find his effort blocked by Enrique. From the resulting corner, Arsenal worked one of the very few clear cut chances they could muster when Fabregas cut the ball back for Nasri on the edge of the box, Nasri fired towards the top corner only for Tim Krul to acrobatically tip over. A soporific half looked to be crawling mercifully to an end when Newcastle provided a sting in the tail. Joey Barton floated a free kick into the area, with Koscielny underneath it Fabianski made a horrible decision to come for it, leaving Koscielny no choice but to leave it for his keeper. When you travel that far, you simply have to take the ball or else you leave the striker with an open goal. Fabianski made the wrong choice and having lost out to Carroll in the air, the ball trickled into the net. Had Fabianski stayed on his line, there is no way Carroll could have scored with a header from that range from a delivery with little pace on it.
That might just be the least amount of words I have ever used to describe an Arsenal first half in a home game. It was that poor. The passing was woeful, with Newcastle snapping at players` heels, the midfield almost seemed to delight in playing one another into trouble. Nasri, Walcott and Fabregas were having poor games, whilst the two decent passes Chamakh received in the whole game were laughably miscontrolled when a decent touch would have seen him through on goal. Arsenal at least begun the second half with some purpose and were unlucky not to equalise when Wilshere`s probing pass found Walcott in the right channel and he struck the cross bar with his effort. The Gunners seemed to offer little answer to the Magpies rearguard, but threatened when a low cross by Song missed Chamakh`s sliding boot by inches. But the home side did not maintain any impetus thereafter. Every midfield duel and aerial battle and loose ball was won by a black and white shirt. The problem is, Arsenal`s midfielders regard every tackle as a potential pass. That`s not always the correct decision, in a game like this, sometimes you have to make sure you win the tackle first before you think about your next move. Arsenal don`t seem to apply any intelligence to individual situations, they just try the same thing over and over again, which is why you see Clichy repeat the error of failing to clear his lines. It`s what the team are coached to do and they seem to lack the sophistication to regard individual situations on their merits. Sometimes you do need to clear your lines. Sometimes, you do need to put your foot in and make sure you win the tackle.
Arsene threw on Arshavin, around 58 minutes too late. To those that still wonder, Arshavin has played half an hour of the last two games and what have we created in the final third in those games? That`s why he`s still an automatic pick ladies and gentlemen. The manager then went with the peculiar move of throwing van Persie on, who has one training session to his name in three months, as a lone striker. Hmmmm. It only took a few more minutes to realise that he might need the presence of someone like Bendtner alongside him. Unfortunately, the rest of the team regarded Bendtner`s inclusion as an excuse to play twenty odd minutes of hoof ball. We were never going to get a result once that practise started. Coloccini and Williamson had a great time with unchallenged defensive headers for the last quarter of the game, something of a training session for them. Arshavin at least added some impetus in the final third, firstly when he closed down Simpson on the left, winning the ball and looking to cut it back for van Persie without success. When Arshavin looks your most hungry player in the tackle, you know something`s amiss.
It was Arshavin again who created the only other chance worth talking about, while others around look for the sideways pass struck at 0.000001mph, Arshavin powered his way past Danny Simpson and cut a cross back from the left, only for Fabregas to head straight at Krul. It is rare that the Gunners create so few chances worth discussing, but Newcastle defended in numbers and pressed us well. They pushed right up on our centre backs, which left either Fabianski, Squillaci or Koscielny with little option but to launch the ball high. Arsenal didn`t even manage their customary injury time flurry, save for being reduced to ten men when Nile Ranger latched onto Guitteriez`s pass and was wrestled to the floor by Koscielny. Mike Dean issued the red card which seemed harsh from my vantage point with Squillaci covering. I am not 100% sure one could call that a clear goalscoring opportunity as the rules dictate for a red card. Interestingly, the linesman gave the foul, not Mike Dean. Yet Dean did not consult with his assistant when deciphering whether it was a red card offence. It seems anomalous for a referee to defer to his assistant`s better position on one facet of a foul, but not on the punishment for the same incident. Still, the decision had no bearing on the result, but it does mean Koscielny misses two games as a result of this being his second red card of the season.
The final whistle was met with a crescendo of boos, a result made all the more frustrating by Chelsea`s loss a few hours later. It was a poor performance and it defies explanation that so many players could look so off the boil in the same game. All of a sudden, our home form is becoming a concern, given that we have few injuries upfront it is a real head scratcher that we are creating so little in home games. Resorting to long ball tactics so early in the game was a big disappointment, we didn`t have the subtlety to pull players out of position with our passing game and Newcastle`s pressing tactics really seemed to ruffle our feathers. Ultimately, we and Newcastle created one clear chance each and Newcastle scored theirs, so any suppositions that we were rampantly outplayed are misguided. But when you make defensive errors and gift teams goals, you make it harder for yourselves against teams as organised and committed as the Magpies. The triumph in the West Ham game wasn`t one of attacking ingenuity, it was that the defence did not make the error that gave the opposing side any impetus and make the task for the attacking third any harder. But what was truly disappointing was the amount of duels we lost in the midfield, every header won by a black shirt. Every misplaced pass by Newcastle, loose ball won by a black shirt. Every misplaced Arsenal pass, loose ball won by a black shirt. Arsenal did not appreciate the situation quickly enough and did not earn the right to play. Ergo, as we lugubriously trudged out of the ground, we knew we hadn`t earned the right for the points. The sense of complacency has been evident since the City win, I wrote in my match report for the Newcastle Carling Cup game that I detected a serious lack of professionalism that I felt we got away with and it`s been visible ever since. It seems to be worryingly endemic in this team in the last three years that every time they string some results together, Bertie Big Bo**ocks syndrome reappears and we start the cycle all over again. And so it begins again.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE (52.Bendtner `72), 4.FABREGAS(c), 14.WALCOTT, 8.NASRI (23.Arshavin `58), 29.CHAMAKH (10.v.Persie `57). Unused: 7.Rosicky, 20.Djourou, 27.Eboue, 53.Szczesny.