Monday, August 15, 2005

Outnumbered and outgunned

Arsenal 2 - 0 Newcastle

Barring an unfavourable cup draw, this was our final appearance at Highbury, and once again it proved to be an unhappy hunting ground as Newcastle were firstly reduced to ten men, and then hit with two late goals to give Arsenal a score that slightly flattered them.

Having started well, we looked to be competing well in midfield and really looking to take control with a high tempo pressing game that saw our midfield of Bowyer, Jenas, Parker and Emre all putting in good performances. Defensively we also looked in good shape, with Babayaro enjoying a decent day at left back and Taylor and Boumsong looking good as a central pairing.

Unfortunately, what was a fairly evenly matched contest was ruined when referee Steve Bennett gave JJ a straight red card for a tackle on Gilberto Silva. Silva took a poor first touch, and the ball was clearly there to be won when JJ slid in. Taking the ball cleanly with his lead leg, Jenas took the man with his trail leg. Apparently this was a dreadful tackle, as JJ was promptly shown a straight red card. Now, I'm not convinced it was a foul, but at worst it merited a yellow card – it was hardly a Steven Gerrard two-footed lunge – but unfortunately Bennett decided to try and stamp his authority on what had been a fairly even tempered match. Players from both sides were left stunned, and Sky picking up Souness and Thierry Henry chatting on the touchline – with both looking somewhat bemused by the decision.

A spot of reorganisation saw Kieron Dyer drop back into midfield and left Shearer to plough a lone furrow up front, and barring a set piece or storming piece of individual skill seemingly wrecked our chances of scoring a goal.

The second half saw us come under increasing pressure, as Arsenal exploited their one man advantage and began to pile forward. Nonetheless, our defence seemed to be coping well, with late blocks from Taylor and Parker as well as a couple of decent saves from Given doing enough to keep the gunners at bay.

Then, with ten minutes to go, up steps Steve Bennett again to award a penalty following fairly minimal contact between Charles N'Zogbia and Freddie Ljungberg. Although Shay got a hand to the penalty, Henry still managed to hit it with sufficient pace and accuracy to beat the Irishman.

Forced to now push forward it was almost inevitable that eighty minutes of good work would be completely undone, and sure enough Arsenal caught us on the counter attack, with Van Persie ultimately slipping in at the near post to slip the ball past Given.

2 - 0 then, and whilst we never really looked like testing Lehmann it still galls that all our hard work was undone by some absolutely terrible refereeing decisions, with the sending off ruling out almost any chance we had of getting something from the game.

On the positive note, there were promising displays from both Parker and Emre, and even Babayaro looked to have shaken off his summer malaise. However, our lack of a cutting edge up front remains a problem, and if Souness can't solve it before the end of August it will be a long slog through to January.

An Arsenal fan's view: East Lower

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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