0 – 1 Coloccini (52 o.g.)
Sent off: Mitrovic (16)
It’s a damning indictment of modern football that some found the sixteenth minute dismissal of Alexsandr Mitrovic both controversial and unwarranted. The Serb arrived on these shores with something of a firebrand reputation and being part of an XI which was sent onto the pitch with instructions to physically intimidate, seemed likeliest to fall foul of the officials. He wasn’t the first to trouble Andre Marriner’s notebook nor the last as Steve McClaren betrayed the expansive footballing legacy so beloved of the Gallowgate by transforming Newcastle into Stoke-lite. They were light of one man with seventy-five minutes to play and got the result their performance deserved.
Bizarrely, McClaren said after the game that whilst “the cards were all fouls but I think the ref has reacted too harshly, too rashly with every one of them.” It seems working for Mike Ashley drives any semblance of common sense out of managers. Does he genuinely believe that? I doubt it but with a squad which is showing little sign of improvement over the shambles of the previous season, he will have clung to whatever flotsam and jetsam strayed of his side’s performance. The odds though, of a Keegan-esque outburst have considerably shortened.
Arsenal will be content with the three points on an afternoon where performance didn’t matter. The looming international break meant that three points was all that counted as the squad sought to end their indifferent start to the season with a win and more importantly, not let the gap to Manchester City grow beyond the five points which existed before kick-off. As events transpired, it turned out to be three points which capitalised on the failings of Chelsea and Liverpool, the latter’s defeat meant Arsenal leapfrogged them into fifth place.
Arsène shuffled the pack before kick-off, Olivier Giroud’s record against Newcastle counted for nought as Theo Walcott was preferred to the lead the line and with Mesut Özil out through what the manager described as a ‘minor’ knee injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came onto the flank with Aaron Ramsey pushed into a central role. Changes that nobody complained about, changes which created openings but the extent of Arsenal’s problems remains evident when the O.G. leading the scoring charts is down to the largesse of their opponents and not a French international.
Thierry Henry grated Giroud’s ego earlier in the year with the observation that the club couldn’t win the title with his compatriot leading the line. It seems that Giroud is hell-bent on proving him right, one goal this season is not a persuasive enough argument to prove Henry wrong. It’s one more than Theo Walcott has although nobody is sure how. Presented with a gilt-edged opportunity to open the floodgates when Tim Krull parried Alexis’ shot, the England international scooped his shot over the bar with an unguarded net beckoning. Ian Wright observed that Walcott, if this was always Wenger’s long-term plan, ought to have played centrally for the last five years, seemed to have a point. That Arsène noted afterwards that he continues to search for a new striker underlines that.
Faced with ten men, Arsenal unsurprisingly overwhelmed possession. Newcastle didn’t muster a shot on target in the ninety minutes and generally gave Laurent Koscielny the sort of return to the side that he of which he could only have dreamed. The other end of the pitch remains in sharp focus and the XI deserves some praise for not panicking having arrived at the interval without scoring. Damned by faint praise? Even though Newcastle packed the defensive third in a determined, some might say rearguard, action not to concede, Arsenal with title pretensions, should have scored more, there’s no doubt about it.
However, having dropped three points on the opening day with the fiasco against West Ham, Arsène will be happy with the points haul since and is probably those three behind where he thought they would be at this point of the season. When the Premier League recommences in a fortnight’s time, the fixtures become more exacting with Stoke and the trip to Zagreb the hors ahead of Chelsea and Tottenham before the month ends. It will need significant improvements up front to continue the form they now find themselves in. A point Arsène acknowledged,
We have offensive potential but you always want more and more goalscorers. We have not fired offensively, our finishing has not been clinical and we have to improve on that.
The internal solutions aren’t there at the moment but maybe, just maybe, they need ten days with the international squads to clear their heads, to brush away the cobwebs. It seems to me that this is the answer because Wenger, notoriously secretive about transfers at the best of times, offered little sign of new blood to change the situation,
We are open and we are in the transfer market. If we find an exceptional player in any sector, we will do it. At the moment I don’t know if something will happen or not.
A familiar refrain but let’s hope it is the game playing with the media he so enjoys. It might be a long September if it isn’t.