Monday, December 12, 2005

Nob does the job*

Newcastle 1 - 0 Arsenal

Now THAT's more like it.

Not so much the first half, admittedly, but the second was something to behold.

Despite Arsenal's surprisingly poor away record coming into Saturday's game - just one win and five points all season - few of us expected it to be an ultimately enjoyable evening. But with Newcastle Utd things rarely turn out the way you expect them to.

Owen returned up front in place of Chopra, but his reappearance went unnoticed for the entire first period. Our excursions into the Gunners' half could be counted on one finger, such was our dearth of attacking ambition.

In fairness, though, our midfield were preoccupied in putting out fires closer to home as Arsenal pressed almost relentlessly. That they only seriously threatened our goal on a couple of occasions was an indication not only of their lack of ruthlessness but also of our defensive fortitude, Boumsong in particular playing better than he has done for months.

Given pulled off a marvellous lightning save to deny Thierry Henry, who had skipped onto a Cesc Fabregas cross and looked odds-on to score with a fierce close-range volley. Henry then fluffed a great chance following good play by Freddie Ljungberg - his va-va-voom obviously left at home in the garage, and not for the first time against us.

Whether or not it was Souness's doing, the team emerged for the second half re-energised and with a renewed self-belief. Owen was immediately into the action, forcing Sol Campbell to make a vital interception, before both Parker and Shearer went agonisingly close.

If the first period had proved something of a Saturday evening stroll for the Gunners, the second was a different story, as we set out to knock them out of their stride - often literally. It was physical and it was bruising, as exemplified by the muscular law-stretching challenges of Shearer and Faye, who, in his endeavour and effort, continued his redemption.

In the context, the red card for two bookable offences shown to the Brazilian Gilberto was harsh - but then the second challenge (on Boumsong) was rather foolish, and Wenger, whose post-match bleatings underlined that they're particularly sore losers, conveniently ignored the fact that the unjust dismissal of Jermaine Jenas in the reverse fixture in August cost us a richly deserved point.

We already had the game by the scruff of the neck, thanks in the main to Parker whose outstandingly committed and hard-working display was sadly curtailed by injury following a pair of bruising collisions. It was just desserts when, in the 82nd minute, Shearer - who had earlier escaped a booking for a very late challenge on Campbell - held off a pack of defenders before playing the ball wide for Solano. Nobby, sufficiently far from the madding crowd to keep his head and pick his spot, drove the ball clinically past Jens Lehmann. Barely two minutes earlier I had turned to my companion and complained about Nobby having done nothing since his return from Villa. Perhaps the Peruvian heard my mutterings and set about setting things right. If you're listening, Nobby - nice one.

There were still a few minutes of normal time and five minutes of added time (mainly due to Parker's injury) to be negotiated, but we got through it without any scares, and Owen came close with practically the only sniff of goal he had all game.

The same grit and spirit will be needed to claim at least a point at West Ham. They may be smarting after the narrow defeat to Blackburn at the weekend, but they've already shown they have more than enough skill and determination to survive in the Premiership. Let's hope it's us edging closer to the 40 point mark come 5pm on Saturday.

* Well, it was either that, or "Nobby does the jobby", which I didn't think was appropriate...

An Arsenal fan's perspective: East Lower

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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