Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Late show blow

Arsenal 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Another trip to London, another sickening defeat, for Newcastle Utd on Monday night. Unlike the thrashings administered by the likes of Fulham and Spurs, this was a game in which we defended doggedly and could (and really should) have come away with a hard-won point for our troubles.

Unfortunately a combination of Howard Webb, poor control and a committed surge by Gunners defender Thomas Vermaelen meant that we conceded a winner in the fifth minute of added time. A fact made all the more galling when you consider that it all came from a Newcastle throw deep in the Arsenal half. Unfortunately, instead of taking the ball into the corner, a poor touch saw the home side regain possession, and with Danny Simpson flat out on the turf having unsuccessfully tried to win back the ball, there was a gaping hole on the right-hand side of our back four. Arsenal broke quickly and the ball eventually fell to Vermaelen, who had charged forward and duly popped up in the vacant right-back area to sweep home past Tim Krul.

What followed the goal illustrated that, while Robin Van Persie might be a fine footballer, he’s also an absolute classless twat as he sought to goad international colleague Tim Krul. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the Dutch squad are next together. For what it’s worth, my money’s on Krul.

Unlike our defeat to Spurs, when Pardew acknowledged we were too open, this time he opted for a slightly more cautious approach, replacing Papiss Cisse with Obertan Kenobi, bringing in HBA for the presumably injured Raylor and playing a five-man midfield (albeit one with three wingers). Despite some initial pressure from Arsenal, it was Newcastle who struck first when HBA cut in from the right wing before firing a powerful left foot shot inside Wojciech Szczesny’s near post and prompting a slightly odd shuffling celebration.

Unfortunately we appeared to switch off having scored and within 60 seconds Arsenal were level as Theo Walcott burst down the right and crossed for Van Persie. The Dutchman easily turned Mike Williamson (with a move reminiscent of the time Bergkamp turned Dabizas at SJP roughly ten years ago) before firing home.

Having allowed the home side straight back in, the match rather settled down, with Newcastle in particular working hard to close the Gunners down, though our hosts proceeded to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, with Newcastle at times struggling to retain the ball (with Dreamboat notably guilty of a number of loose passes). Davide Santon too looked to be struggling with Walcott repeatedly surging past our Italian full-back.

The Silver Fox had clearly seen enough at half-time, opting to replace Santon with Perchinho and it was significant that Walcott was appreciably quieter in the second half. For all their possession, Arsenal struggled to create too many clear-cut chances, with Van Persie and Tomas Rosicky guilty of wasting the opportunities they did create.

Big Lad came on for Obertan Kenobi presumably with a view to holding up the ball as we withstood wave after wave of Arsenal attacks, and this seemed to have the desired effect. Unfortunately Mr T was forced to hobble from proceedings shortly afterwards with Danny Guthrie on in his place.

With Newcastle reeling, the decision of Webb to allow five minutes of injury time was a sickening sight, the ref presumably swayed by the crowd’s repeated booing of Krul whenever he took his time (although they might want to remember that when the ball’s in play he can keep it at his feet for as long as he chooses) and in the final of those minutes, Vermaelen popped up to administer the crushing coup de grace.

Obviously this pretty much finishes off any chance we had of making the top four this season, but to be honest the fact that we were gutted to lose to a last-minute goal to a resurgent Arsenal side shows how far we’ve come this season. If we can right the ship against Norwich on Sunday this result won’t look too bad.

Arsenal fans' perspectives (all of whom could benefit from reading the comment about time-wasting above): A Cultured Left Foot, Another Arsenal Blog, Arseblog, Arsenal FC Blog, East Lower, Gunnerblog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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