Newcastle 1 (Taylor 60) Arsenal 1 (Adebayor 4)
A frustrating match at times, and certainly not the best viewing for the neutral, a draw was eventually the right result for a match that was at times tetchy, fought between two sides that for different reasons were not playing free flowing football. But by the end, Wenger was understandably irritated with Mike Dean, whose decisions, or lack of, throughout the night were baffling.
The team lined up as expected, with Gilberto and Eduardo coming in for the injured pair of Flamini and Hleb. And the game could not have started better – Taylor played a loose pass across his defence when he should’ve cleared, and N’Zogbia only managed to get the ball away as far as Eboue, whose superb cross was chested down by Adebayor, before he fired an unstoppable shot past Given. There was much to criticise about Newcastle’s defending for the goal, but the finish was sublime.
As the first half wore on, that goal became increasingly important, as it was clear that the midfield were lacking the cohesion of recent weeks, shorn of so much creativity and drive through injury. Diarra battled hard in the centre against some agricultural tackles, Adebayor worked his socks off up front again, but Rosicky was struggling to get into the game and Eduardo was completely absent.
Newcastle’s tactic was pretty clear – act like Bolton as much as possible. Allardyce’s key men were Taylor, Barton and Smith, and the latter two picked up yellow cards before too long. Taylor should’ve joined them – after his header was superbly tipped on to the post by Almunia, he chased the referee and yelled at him from an inch away, complaining of a non-existent push.
At half time, the lead flattered us slightly, as although if any team deserved to lead it was Arsenal, the game had 0-0 written all over it. The second half started brightly, and Rosicky and Adebayor contrived to blow an excellent chance – the Czech was through on goal but lacking the pace to get away from the defence, but for some reason Adebayor ran a yard ahead of him, offside all the way, then complained when he didn’t receive a pass.
Soon after, Newcastle were level. Eduardo was tackled out on the left, and Martins dummied the cross for Taylor to fire home off the near post. In fairness, it was an equaliser they deserved – our defence was beginning to creak and Newcastle were getting more and more of the ball.
Sagna then picked up a ridiculous yellow card for diving despite Smith running straight through his clearing leg, before Bendtner was brought on for the struggling Eduardo. As the game headed for a draw, Newcastle went for it, but a goal was more likely to come from a counter attack, and twice Adebayor was crudely taken out when through on goal, by Taylor and Baye, only for Dean to reject both appeals, much to the annoyance of Arsene Wenger.
The infuriating thing about Mike Dean is how he spent the whole match reacting to the crowd. In the first half, Diarra ‘fouled’ Butt, Dean waved away the Newcastle claims, only to change his mind a couple of seconds later when the crowd roared. And as for those two late incidents, you can bet that if they had been at the other end, with the crowd going ballistic, we’d have been in trouble.
It’s the inconsistency that grates the most – some refs are over fussy, but Dean just refuses to make decisions. He probably thinks he is just letting play flow, but when players are taken out off the ball, he needs to act. At times tonight, Newcastle could’ve been playing in the all white of Bolton with all the cynical off the ball fouling that was going on.
Still, a draw was a fair result, as Arsenal didn’t do enough creatively to win, but at least Newcastle didn’t pinch a late winner that would’ve hurt the confidence a lot more than a draw away to a team with the bit between their teeth. And a word for some of the people calling in to the phone-ins this evening, claiming that they can see the cracks in Arsenal now, all based on this result. Let’s make this clear – we rarely win in Newcastle, and they were putting in their best performance of the season so far, so a draw really isn’t a disaster.
If that’s the worst of the cracks we’ll see this season, we’re in for a wonderful year.