Sunday, January 27, 2008

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Arsenal 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

It was always going to be a very tall order to keep our FA Cup dream alive, and so it proved, as an Arsenal side evidently stung by Tuesday's 5-1 league cup defeat to Spurs and spearheaded by Emmanuel Adebayor, a man in a blistering run of form, ran out victorious. The surprise, though, was that we did at least give them a decent game, going close on a few occasions and only really lost our grip in the last ten minutes.

Nicky Butt and Alan Smith were both back from their two game suspensions, and Kevin Keegan elected to pitch them straight back into the side. That meant David Rozehnal dropping to the bench, and Shola Ameobi dropping out of the squad altogether, presumably as a result of an injury - if not, he may already be regretting excitedly referring to Keegan's return as "music to my ears"...

If the News Of The Screws and their "club insider" are to be believed, Keegan's team talk was simply "Arsenal are a great passing team. We must make sure we pass the ball better than them". Ultimately we didn't and lost - though it didn't help that we didn't have a player with the same cutting edge as Adebayor, either. At least we worried them in the first half, though, with Smith particularly unlucky to see his shot headed off the line by Gael Clichy. Steven Taylor, up from the back, headed just over, and Michael Owen also had a half-decent opportunity.

As is so often the case, though, we had Shay Given to thank for the fact that we made it to the break with our goal intact. The Irishman pulled off excellent saves to deny Eduardo, Clichy and Abou Diaby.

It only took five minutes of the second half for the Gunners to get their noses in front, though. Eduardo was given the time and space to curl a shot past Given's outstretched hand and off the foot of the post, which rebounded to Adebayor who calmly ignored the black-and-white-shirted players flinging themselves at his feet and fired high into the top corner.

I doubt I was alone in fearing a repeat of the Man Utd second half horror show, but thankfully it never materialised. Neither, though, did an equaliser, and as Arsenal (and particularly Cesc Fabregas) began to enjoy their superiority, opportunities in front of Jens Lehmann's goal dried up. Owen claimed a penalty for handball against Philippe Senderos, but it would have been harsh. Keegan's post-match assessment was typically honest: "We could not keep it up and they stepped up, we stepped back and in the end, the gulf was pretty big".

It took our opponents until the 83rd minute to double their advantage, though, Adebayor jinking past Rozehnal too easily and shooting underneath Given and past Taylor on the line, for once unable to keep the ball out, and leaving us to rue Togo's failure to qualify for the African Cup of Nations.

With the game over to all intents and purposes, it was unfortunate for Nicky Butt that he glanced Fabregas's free kick past Given for an own goal that put an unflattering sheen on the scoreline - we were well beaten, but not that well beaten.

And so we get to concentrate on the league - and Tuesday's return to the Emirates. Joy...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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