Match Report: Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal

Premier League: 29th December 2013

By Zedie

Olivier GiroudArsene Wenger rung the changes for this must win match, with Flamini, Rosicky, Wilshere and the healed Koscielny all coming into the fold for an away day that was always going to be a battle.  With City vanquishing Liverpool just a few days prior to this, we had to get all 3 points if we wanted to usher the new year in at the summit of the table.

And so Arsenal kicked off against an Alan Pardew side that seemed to have taken note from Mourinho’s performance not too long ago.  Newcastle sat deep and pressed hard when we were in possession, making space a premium in between their midfield and defence.

Arsenal pressed forward with conviction and in the 9th minute, I neat interchange between Giroud and Walcott ended with Giroud playing the ball to absolutely no one.  The reason?  Chiek Tiote had cynically halted the run of Walcott with a yellow worthy body check.  Nothing given.

The first real chance fell to Newcastle in the 12th minute, as an advanced run from Mathieu Debuchy was found by a searching Yohan Cabaye pass.  With Gibbs switched off, Debuchy had beaten the offside trap easily, but could only fail to control.

With Arsenal enjoying the majority of possession, Rosicky had a stellar opportunity to play in the unmarked Giroud in the 14th minute, only for his pass to fall just behind the big front man.

Arsenal continued to pepper the Newcastle goal with long range strikes as Rosicky teed up a fierce shot in the 26th minute, only for Krul to make the save look routine, with a solid catch.

Olivier Giroud found himself in the wars when he reacted first to a 50/50 ball.  Williamson arrived a fraction late and planted his studs on the top of Giroud’s foot.  Giroud looked like he was in trouble and there was an anxious wait until he finally got to his feet and carried on.

With the teams in deadlock, genuine chances were limited, but one was nearly gifted to Newcastle.  The ever reliable Koscielny made a loose pass, resulting in a swift Newcastle counter attack that ended with a corner near the stroke of halftime. The corner was fizzed in and met by the head of the excellent Debuchy, whose looping header came off the underside of the bar and onto the head of the perfectly placed Jack Wilshere to block the attempt.

With lines cleared, the halftime whistle blew to the relief of the Arsenal contingent.

The second half kicked off in much the same fashion as the first, with Arsenal pressing the play and Newcastle working tremendously hard to smother any footholds in their final third.  If you like end to end chances and frantic play, you’d probably have torn quite a few strands out.  If you appreciate the tactical, defensive side of the game, this was a grand slam chess match.

This continued until the 65th minute, when for the umpteenth time, Tiote gave away a foul 35 yards out.  Theo Walcott placed the ball down as Koscielny and Mertesacker advanced to the sea of red, white and black shirts tussling on the 16 yard box.  The ball was floated perfectly into the danger zone: that sweet spot between the last men and the keeper, where he who reacts first, takes the spoils of war.  In this case, it was Olivier Giroud.  His glancing downward header had the complete beating of Tim Krul, who could only curse his defence for not moving as quickly as the Arsenal front man.

The goal seemed to stun Newcastle to the core, as the 69th minute saw a golden opportunity for Arsenal to double the lead.  A throw on in the final third of Newcastle’s leftside found its way to Wilshere.  He slid Walcott in, whose toe poke was blocked by the on rushing Krul.  The ball fell back to Theo, whose lightning quick reactions led him to lob the ball over the floored Krul towards goal, only for the alert Debuchy to scramble away.  His clearance fell as far as the unmarked Giroud, who had all the time in the world and an empty net (bar Debuchy) to slam home. His scuffed volley from 6 yards out had a greater chance of going for a throw than the back of the net and with that, the chance was gone.

The game stuttered as neither team really claimed a stake to earn the next goal.  This boiled over slightly, as a few challenges started getting a bit more colourful, mostly down to the fierce will to win gripped both teams.

On 75 minutes, Flamini was booked for a full blooded, ball winning challenge, when the position of the player possibly didn’t need as much force.  However, I’d happily leave someone else to tell that to Arsenal’s enforcer.

Not two minutes later, Tomas Rosicky was booked after for a trademark rapier tackle that looked far worse than the Newcastle player had made it.  It seemed to be in retaliation for someone going in hard on him, so the revenge element of Rosicky’s challenge meant that the threat level was raised to Defcon 3.  Handbags went flying, with a few shoves aimed at the little Mozart, while Bac Sagna and Flamini made their thoughts clear.  Nothing came of it and play resumed.

Giroud pointWith a priceless goal in the back pocket, Wenger decided to take off the marginalised Walcott in favour of Carl Jenkinson on 79 minutes, a clear statement that the lead was there to be protected.

This tactical sub was nearly all for nothing in the 81st minute, when a nonchalant Szczesny collected a standard backpass and launched his long kick directly into the face of Loic Remy.  The ball dribbled agonisingly wide past the post, while Remy staggered a few steps and predictably hit the deck.  It was a huge let off for Szczesny, but as is the case for him lately, one that lady luck had given the seal of approval to.

If someone were to ask me how the last 10 minutes played out, I’d refer them to watch Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and to pay particular attention to the defence of Helm’s Deep.

With Arsenal sitting back and Newcastle chasing the points they needed to go level with Liverpool, wave after wave of balls into our box were repelled by the resolute 11, defending for their lives.  Hatem Ben Arfa was played in to continually test Flamini, with the mismatch in pace being a logical weak spot to probe.

However, Per ‘Legolas’ Mertesacker and Laurent ‘Aragorn’ Koscielny hoofed, headed and howitzered anything that came even near to causing a scramble in the Arsenal penalty area.  The introduction of Niklas Bendtner in the 85th minute for Giroud also helped stall Newcastle from getting balls into our box.

With Tim Krul committing himself to head into the box during the final throw of the dice, the ball broke out up field after a long punt, resulting in an Arsenal throw.  With the lumbering Krul getting back into position, the smallest morsel of awareness would have seen Jenkinson take a quick throw to the unmarked Bendtner who was in acres of space for a free shot on goal.  Instead Jenkinson, who had his back to the game, failed to hear the anguished cries of Bendtner, who quite rightly could not believe what was happening.

I can laugh now about it, but if we had conceded or that situation was playing out with us needing a goal, Jenkinson’s lack of awareness would have brought tears of rage to my eyes.  Time ran out, the Geordie orcs were defeated and our goal remained un-breached to send Arsenal back to the top of the table.

Today’s game was a hard fought victory away against a team that has had some very promising form of late and while it would have been nice to register more goals on the board, the importance of maintaining our run against the teams outside the traditional top 4 cannot be stressed enough.

Arsenal FC are the team in pole position going into 2014.

Happy New Year Gooners!

 

Match Ratings

Szczesny – 7 – Delt with everything that came to him, including a highly pressurised last 10 minutes.  Could have cost us with the clearance, ended up clouting one of their most dangerous players, who was even more quiet after that.  I know what you did there Chesney!

Sagna – 8 – Worked hard defensively, was a proper warrior today when we needed him.

Mertesacker – 8 – Was busier than in recent games, stood tall especially at the end.

Koscielny – 7 – Came in after some time off with a gashed knee.  Made an error that nearly cost us but put things right both times.  Again, kept a clean sheet under pressure.

Gibbs – 7(off 71st min) Was a lot quieter than normal offensively, but did well defensively throughout the game.

Flamini – 7 – had a lot to do today, kept it simple as ever and battled hard.

Wilshere- 7 – Mixed bag from Jack today, he cut out a lot of the sloppy passing that blighted earlier games, but failed to impose himself in the final third like we are used to.  This could be down to Newcastle’s fantastic work ethic today.

Walcott – 6 – (off 78th min)– Was faced with a completely different game today and was marked up heavily against a team that was organised and ready to graft.  Peach of an assist for the goal, his set pieces seem to be improving.

Rosicky – 6 –  I felt like Rosicky just couldn’t get his game going today.  It was pretty tough to get any space playing against Newcastle’s setup today, but always expect more from him.  Failed to make one simple key pass early on that would have set Giroud up for a real chance.

Cazorla – 5Just couldn’t get his game going after a sterling showing versus West Ham.  Was tormented all day defensively by the fantastic Debuchy and found it hard to keep up.

Giroud – 6(off 85th min)  Struggled to impose himself today again, made some good moves but service was left wanting to him and was isolated at times due to Newcastle’s work ethic.  Great reactions and movement for the goal, hopefully this will be a queue for him to kick on.  Missed an absolute sitter straight after the goal.

Subs

Arteta – 7 – (on 71st min) – Came on and helped steady the ship centrally.  Wasn’t really able to get forward more, but did his main job well and made some vital interceptions.

Jenkinson- 7 – (on 78th min) – It’s been a while, but helped shore up the right hand side and defended well generally.  Provided the comedy/horror moment of the game, by failing to spot a golden opportunity for a quick throw on to a completely unmarked Bendtner.  Lesson firmly learned.

Bendner -6 – (on 85th min) – Did well to harass the Newcastle long ball merchants at the back once he came on.  His closing down scraped valuable seconds away, when Arsenal needed to kill time.

 

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