Newcastle United 4 – 4 Arsenal
0 – 1 Walcott (1)
0 – 2 Djourou (3)
0 – 3 van Persie (10)
0 – 4 van Persie (26)
1 – 4 Barton (68 pen)
2 – 4 Best (75)
3 – 4 Barton (82 pen)
4 – 4 Tiote (87)
Diaby sent off (50)
Having dominated the opening fifty minutes, Arsenal capitulated in the final forty minutes, undone by a combinaton of attacking reticence due to diminished numbers and refereeing decisions that left Jack Wilshere enraged enough to comment on Twitter. That the tragedy was not of Shakespearian proportions is largely due to Wolves surprising win over Manchester United, the gap at the top reduced to four points.
Yet it is still a case of two points thrown away. And that should never have happened.
The start was the brightest that could have been wished for. Newcastle barely had time to get within a breath of the ball before forty seconds of keep ball from kick-off had ended with Walcott being released by Arshavin, sprinting past Coloccini and beating Harper with consumate ease.
It got better. Djourou’s run of games without scoring was in danger of becoming Jensen-esque, instead it remains at Clichy levels. Arshavin was once more the provider, delivering an inch perfect set piece, Djourou rises majestically to power home an unstoppable header.
Five minutes later the good start became excellent. Walcott found himself unchallenged and took advantage of the Newcastle laxness, racing into the area and calmly squaring for Robin van Persie to add a third, his first of the afternoon.
Arsenal were picking their hosts off at will, reducing Newcastle to long, hopeful punts into the area in the hope that a flailing boot might connect. They did not and in the meantime, Arshavin, Fabregas and van Persie all had decent opportunities.
An excellent start became almost uptopian when Sagna’s cross took a slight deflection to find Robin van Persie, the Dutchman’s salmon-like leap ensuring that the cross received the devastating finish it deserved. His hat-trick was denied only by an outstanding save from Steve Harper and a lacklustre finish by himself.
The second half had barely started before it descended into calamity. Djourou succumbed to a knee injury, the extent of which is not yet known, rendering criticism of Wenger not signing a centre back premature to say the least. Matters became worse when the red mists fell on Abou Diaby, sent off for manhandling Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan.
There can be no complaint about the decision to dismiss Diaby, raising hands on the pitch more often than not leads to a three match suspension. Nolan and Barton can consider themselves lucky to have finished the match. The former had no reason to push Diaby, little more to put Szczesny into a headlock later on. This second incident should have resulted in a minimum of a yellow card. There was no reason to do so; the ball is not live once more until Arsenal kick off and running back to the centre circle does not make that happen quicker. Instead Szczesny entered the referee’s notebook.
Back to Diaby. It is hard not to feel sympathy for him in that his career has been marked by bad injuries and Barton’s tackle was reckless at best, the Newcastle midfielder unable to control his follow through. It was worthy of a yellow card but received none.
With the loss of Djourou, this incident became game-changing. Squillaci had barely been able to settle when a solid form of protection disappeared. Here I think Arsène made a mistake; the introduction of Ebouè might have given more tenacity to midfield, rather than waiting twenty five minutes before that happened.
Whilst Newcastle sought to impose their numerical advantage, Arsenal failed to capitalise on their greatest strength; passing. The ten men failed to retain possession in sufficient quantity time-wise to take the sting from the game.
With a quarter of the game remaining Newcastle came back into the game. Koscielny had hold of Best and then tackled from behind, failed to win the ball and Dowd pointed to the spot. Barton scored coolly although his fascist hairstyle and moustache makes him less savoury than before.
It was the spark that Newcastle needed. Best reduced the deficit further from close range. The game was swinging further out of Arsenal’s control, reaching farcical levels with the award of Newcastle’s second penalty. It is hard to see how Dowd could have awarded the spot kick, his view of the aerial tussle between Koscielny, Rosicky and Williamson. Neither could the Assistant which renders Dowd as incompetent at best.
Barton beat Szczesny once more although this time marginally, the Pole’s leg unable to stop the shot. He was beaten minutes later by Tiofte with a super strike from twenty yards. Instead of being a consolation, it was a hammer blow to Arsenal.
Immediately after the match, Arsène observed that he was concerned about the psychological damage this draw might have. There is that element to work on, ten v eleven is standard training fare for the players but he needs to look at the attack happy side he left on the pitch at that time. Gibbs and Ebouè could have given more protection to the defence, that course of action natural in that scenario.
This morning has seen Squillaci blamed by all and sundry yet he had no part in any of the goals being conceded. It is perverse to blame him; the loss of Diaby had more impact and importantly, conceding possession too readily was punished with goals.
More damaging though was some perverse refereeing decisions. The second penalty will never be accepted yet the worst Dowd will suffer is a week’s relegation to the Championship before being promoted once more to inflict his incompetence. There was a lack of consistency in his decision making that is symptomatic of recent decisions.
Ironically Arsenal benefitted from the incompetence as Newcastle had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside, TV showing Rosicky played everyone onside.
There are issues to be looked at by the manager and his staff but the internationals stop that happening. Positives are the first half, as rampaging as has ever been seen by Arsenal. More of that and none of the second half will see a title delivered. But lessons have to be learned.