Newcastle v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
St. James’ Park
Kick off: December 29, 2013 1:30 PM BST
If you tuned in today as a neutral hoping for a 7-2 or a 4-4, you were likely to be a little disappointed. If however, you’re an Arsenal fan, hoping to see us back at the top of the table with a win against Newcastle today, you are sure to be happy.
News came in that Arsenal would be without Özil and Vermaelen due to a shoulder injury and illness respectively. Thankfully Koscielny returned from injury to slot back in at centre back, and in all honesty Özil could do with a rest. This meant Rosicky was recalled, and Podolski who had been so fantastic coming on against West Ham, remained on the bench.
The game started off at a fairly high tempo, both teams pressing well off the ball. Gibbs looked dangerous in the early stages, getting into good crossing positions behind the Newcastle defence. But each time he failed to pick out a team mate, despite having time and space on the ball.
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The English left back did seem to momentarily forget his defensive duties though, switching off and allowing Debuchy to run in behind him and beat the offside trap. The Frenchman would have been one on one with the keeper, had his first touch not let him down.
Chances were few and far between after that, Arsenal taking a couple of long shots from the edge of the box, but nothing that particularly troubled Tim Krul. The talk of the half was less about chances created, and more about the lack of officiating.
Several hard challenges were coming in, referee Lee Probert rarely raising his whistle. It looked as though if things weren’t dealt with, the game could eventually descend into chaos, but Probert didn’t seem to be too worried.
There was a worrying moment when Cazorla went down under a fairly innocuous challenge. Newcastle played on, which Giroud was clearly annoyed about, as he went in hard on Tiote. The French striker appeared to roll his ankle as he lunged in, so Arsenal were momentarily reduced to nine men. To add insult to injury, Giroud received a yellow card for his challenge on the Ivorian; who had produced several poor tackles of his own throughout the match.
It looked like the half was going to finish without either team having a decent attempt on goal, but just before half time a poor Koscielny pass left Newcastle space to break forward. The Frenchman recovered well to block Cabaye’s shot, but the ball fell perfectly for Sissoko who blasted a shot goalwards, and saw his attempt narrowly tipped over by Szczesny. The resulting corner was met by Debuchy, who’s headed effort crashed off the underside of the bar before being cleared by Giroud. A tense end to the half, but we went into the break at nil nil.
The second half kicked off and Newcastle were looking extremely aggressive. They were pressing extremely well and not giving us any time on the ball, limiting our creativity and chances even more so than in the first half.
We eventually got the breakthrough goal though, after Cazorla was brought down by Tiote (who had still somehow not been booked). Walcott whipped the free kick in, and Giroud rose to head it past Krul to make it 1-0. The Frenchman has been suffering from a bit of a drought recently, so hopefully this will give him the boost he needs to start scoring again.
It didn’t seem to help him much a few minutes later, when he found himself in a great position to make it 2-0. Wilshere played Walcott through on goal, but it was a difficult ball for the Englishmen to latch onto, and his shot was blocked by Krul. The rebound came straight back to him though, and he attempted a cheeky chip towards the top corner. The ball was cleared off the line, but fell straight to Giroud in a fantastic position. His right footed shot was rushed though, and the ball trickled across the goal mouth before being cleared.
There were some unusual tactical substitutions from Wenger. Arteta coming on for Gibbs, and Jenkinson on for Walcott. Flamini moved to left back, Gibbs obviously suffering from some kind of injury, and Arsenal were playing five at the back. With fifteen minutes to go though and Walcott being withdrawn, Newcastle were able to push up the pitch and pile on the pressure.
Arsenal were defending well, even if it was a bit panicked. It was almost all undone though, by a moment of madness from our man between the sticks. Szczesny waited far too long as he was being closed down by Remy, and then proceeded to boot the ball straight at the Frenchman’s face. The ball struck Remy hard before bouncing just wide for a goal kick. Lucky boy Szczesny.
Bendtner was brought on for Giroud late on, but didn’t have much of a chance to make an impact. There was a moment where he could have had a chance at an open goal, Krul caught up the pitch after going forward for a corner. Jenkinson wasn’t switch on though, and by the time he retrieved the ball the chance was long gone.
There was a huge amount of pressure applied by Newcastle in the last ten minutes, and Arsenal were clearing the ball to no one, just inviting more and more pressure from the home side. Mertesacker, Koscielny and Sagna were having great games though, and dealt with everything that was thrown at them in the dying moments.
The game finished 1-0, and Arsenal were back where they belong at the top of the Premier League; sure to remain there at least until the new year now.
on how happy he is with the result
I am very happy. It was a very intense game against a good Newcastle team. We got a big physical challenge today. Overall I felt that we were in control of the game until we scored the 1-0. We missed a second chance that would have certainly sealed the game. In the last 15 minutes we have shown another aspect of our team – resilience, fight. We threw our bodies in the box. You have seen today a technical aspect of our team that was quite good but as well a mental aspect that was needed in a game of that stature.
on similar resilient performances over the last three games…
Yep. There is something in the team that is special on the mental front where we have many times been questioned. But we have shown that at West Ham when we were 1-0 down, we have shown that again today when we were a bit backs to the wall in the last 15 minutes. There’s a great solidarity and a great spirit in the side.
on missing that resilience in recent years…
For years we were younger [and less able] to resist this kind of pressure but we have always been up there at the top. If you analyse well our results we have always been up there. Last year in this period we were out of the title race but 2013 we have been quite consistent.
on whether he saw that strength in the summer…
No we finished well last season. Unfortunately we lost our [first] home game and that provoked a massive reaction but if you looked at the big scale of 2013 we have been very consistent.
on giving Giroud a rest…
I don’t know. Every time I think I give him a rest but we have a team that is a bit short, lightweight and more focused on mobility and technical movement so he is the one guy who has that strength and structure for us. That fighting up front is very important for us.
on getting the most points in 2013…
We’ve come out of very difficult games. We played Everton, we played Man City, Chelsea, at West ham, at Newcastle and we dropped some points but I felt it was more down to the heavy schedule and short recovery time we had than to the difficulty of the games. But we have to show it on the pitch and that’s what we tried to do.
on the belief of winning the title…
Look we believe in ourselves and we are determined to give our best absolutely and to turn back on this season at the end and think we have given our best. I hope it will be enough of course but it’s a long way to go – it’s too early to say that.
on his interest in Cabaye in the summer…
No we don’t look for midfielders because today we didn’t have Ozil or Ramsey who stayed at home and we had still three good midfielders and I still had Arteta on the bench so there is no real need in there.
on how bad [Mesut] Ozil’s injury is…
It is an inflamed shoulder, it should be one more week maybe less, I don’t know, but not a long time.
Here are some of the top tweets from today’s game:
“Wish my Mrs was as dirty as Tiote.”
“Poldi for Rosicky please, Santi moved to middle. Just not happening up top currently.”
“Tiote again. Still no card.”
“Szczesny nearly killed Remy there.”
“I honestly don’t know how you Arsenal fans get through the day without soiling yourselves.”
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Sagna Mertesacker(c) Koscielny Gibbs
Be sure to check out our Arsenal Video Highlights page to view highlights of recent matches! A link is also at the top of the article.