Arsenal 0 – 1 Newcastle United
0 – 1 Carroll (45)
A morning of brumal conditions seems somewhat appropriate following the flaccidity of yesterday’s Arsenal performance. For the second time this season, a newly promoted side has come to The Emirates to frustrate and succeeded in opening the scoring. Like West Bromwich Albion before them, Newcastle left with the three points. In keeping with their nickname, The Magpies stole the points unlike Albion who played enterprisingly to take advantage of their slovenly hosts.
The goal was avoidable, a goalkeeping error compounding the defensive slackness beforehand. Yet whereas previous similar situations had seen an encampment of the opponents penalty areas, a blockade that French lorry drivers would be proud; there was none of this on Sunday. Indeed, Newcastle would have been pleased with the ease that they controlled the final stages even drawing a deserved red card for Koscielny, Squillaci too far across to be able definitively described as the last man.
Several key players were below par, notably Cesc Fabregas who appeared to be struggling with the after-effects of his hamstring injury. Whilst the captain has at times seemed to have talismanic tendencies, like Henry before him rescuing stifled collective performances, his impaired mobility assisted a Newcastle midfield that was intent on pressuring the man on the ball from the outset.
Having been willing trade blows initially, Newcastle were forced back into their own half as Arsenal asserted themselves. The closest to an Arsenal goal in the first half was Fabregas, his thirty yard free kick deflected onto the crossbar by the Newcastle wall, a rarity that the defensive barrier held firm in the modern game.
Fabregas and Koscielny would find their route to goal blocked by defenders as they sought to find the Arsenal shooting boots. Minutes before half-time, Nasri snapped an effort which seemed to be heading into the net, Krul producing a fine save to maintain parity. For all of the deserved criticism for his timewasting antics, the Dutchman proved the match of anything Arsenal threw at him during the ninety minutes. When he was beaten, the woodwork came to his rescue. On such things are wins away from home built.
The deadlock was broken as the interval beckoned. A debatable free kick was awarded when Sagna was determined to have fouled Gutierrez. Barton lofted the set play into the area, Chamakh stopped tracking Carroll and the Newcastle centre forward rose to head the ball into the net as Fabianski came, saw and dithered. Underneath all this Koscielny did not attempt to jump, unsure as to whether or not he would impede his goalkeeper’s attempt to get the ball.
The mistake is being used as evidence that the Pole is back in old ways, too harsh and critical when there was general hesitancy ahead of him. I would suggest that this is the reason he stuttered. Crucially no-one covered him on the line as he came to meet the cross, an error by the defence and in those circumstances, retreating to his line was probably the Pole’s better option, easy to say from the comfort of the stands, comfort which made the support lacrimose for the match.
As the second half commenced, it seemed that the missing urgency was manifesting in the Arsenal attack, culminating in Walcott rattling the crossbar with Krul well beaten. It proved to be a false dawn; the lethargy of the first half returned as the creativity that we expect became noticeable in its absence.
Wenger then made his substitutions which are not entirely understandable. Nasri was withdrawn due to injury and replaced by Arshavin (understandable) whilst the ineffective Chamakh was replaced by van Persie (bemusing). For all the relief / joy that van Persie’s return brings, it was a curious choice with Bendtner a more natural replacement, the only explanation that Wenger felt Arsenal were too predictable and allowing the visitor’s defence too comfortable an afternoon aerially.
Wenger compounded the situation by withdrawing Wilshere for Bendtner, essentially moving to a more orthodox four-pronged attack. The youngster had been arguably the most effective midfielder, removing Fabregas may have been more productive with his temperament brimming with evident frustration. The changes made no difference to the eventual outcome nor threatened to do so save for a Fabregas header following an Arshavin slalom on the left.
With a tough week ahead, Wenger has some mental repair work to shake the cobwebs from Arsenal players minds. Arshavin noted post-match that it had been a bad week and that this happens in football. Chelsea’s failure to take any points from Anfield means that those dropped at home have, at this moment in time, not proved costly, maintaining the gap. However, with Wolves having forced Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks to eke out victories rather than sweeping them aside, any complacency at Molineux may be punished.
Those proclaiming an end to the Arsenal title challenge are as premature as shops putting Christmas decorations on display in September. What is apparent though is the necessity to put together a winning run in the Premier League. Wednesday night would be a good time to start.