Arsenal missed the chance to go six points clear at the top of the Premiership table as they were held to a 1-1 draw by a determined Newcastle United side.
Both sides went into this in contrasting form, Arsenal unbeaten at the top of the league and Newcastle in a rut after collecting only one point from their last five games, and it looked to be going to the script when Emmanuel Adebayor scored a goal of real quality in the 4th minute. The Togolese striker took down Emmanuel Eboue’s lofted cross on the chest and volleyed it past Shay Given with a piece of skill as brilliant as it was effective. But Newcastle responded well, biting into tackles and show real desire for the rest of the contest before pulling a goal back through Steven Taylor in the 60th minute.
The momentum shifted Newcastle’s way and if any team was likely to get the winner then it would’ve been the home side, but Arsenal survived the onslaught and may have even snatched the win if the referee had chosen to punish either of Habib Beye or Taylor for challenges that denied Adebayor clear goalscoring opportunities on two occasions. All-in-all the draw was a fair result, something that Arsene Wenger admitted after the match.
“Overall you could say they did deserve something from the game and we didn’t really create enough going forward to say we should have won. Physically it was a very difficult game for us tonight and mentally as well because they did fight for every ball. We did not have enough time to play.”
The big question I have been asking myself today (I’ve had a day off work, so I’ve had a lot of time to think) is ‘should I be worried about this performance?’. While this match was nothing quite like the onslaught in Seville, the simple fact is that for the best part of the ninety minutes against Newcastle, Arsenal were outplayed. Taking into account this match as well as those against Aston Villa and Sevilla, it is now five out of the last six 45-minute halves that Arsenal have been outplayed be their opponents (the excellent first-half at Villa Park the exception). In my opinion, that is something worth worrying about.
Arsenal midfield hussled out
Newcastle performed extremely well and it seemed like the pressure on Sam Allardyce and the club inspired the side to up their game against Arsenal. They were combative and full of energy without being overly-physical, and the Arsenal midfield missing Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb and Cesc Fabregas were simply not up to the task. I felt Gilberto Silva was again a little cumbersome and, as in the second half against Aston Villa on Saturday, Lassana Diarra took too many touches on the ball. As Wenger alluded to in his post-match comments, the midfield were just not quick enough physically or mentally to pick the right pass to play their way out of tight spots.
While I don’t question either Diarra or Gilberto’s ability, or indeed Eboue’s for that matter, I do want to make the point that if the three midfield musketeers were available then Arsenal probably would have gone home with three points. As it was, they weren’t and they didn’t and Wenger will have some thinking to do. The boys will obviously be disappointed with the result but will need to move on quickly to prepare for the weekend match against Middlesborough.
The one positive to come out of the match was that defensively, the side was again superb. Kolo Toure, although scrambly at times was effective and William Gallas put in another superb performance when the pressure was on, marshalling the back four in the way that only he can. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy also did well despite being unable to get forward as much as they would’ve wanted. Indeed, Sagna spent most of his night shadowing James Milner. Manuel Almunia carried on from his good game against Aston Villa with another sure-handed display that will bring confidence to the manager.
With a number of key players out Arsenal are struggling to get forward as much as they usually do but with the first-choice back five ever-present the side will continue to be very difficult to beat.
What do you think?
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