Newcastle 0 Arsenal 4 (Krul og 45, Walcott 53, 88, Bendtner 83)
(Carling Cup 4th Round)
In all competitions last season we managed a paltry four clean sheets in 28 games away from home, a statistic that tells you a great deal about why we ended the campaign empty handed. The last shutout was a goalless draw at Aston Villa in January, and it remained our most recent until Sunday’s 3-0 win at Eastlands, Fabianski doing a great deal to finally end the run.
As a result, while all the pundits focus on our extraordinary scoring feats, I find myself particularly pleased that the weekend’s win has been quickly followed by another blank in the opposition column. Again, an excellent goalkeeping display was at the heart of the success, although it would be remiss of me not to mention the terrific job Koscielny and Djourou did in shielding young Szczesny from a spirited Newcastle side.
But when the Pole was called upon, he excelled – tipping Alan Smith’s piledriver on to the bar before making a series of excellent blocks as the hosts threatened in the second half. Even more impressive was the way he commanded his area, ordering the defence around and acting decisively. The final act of the match was fitting, the young keeper punching a corner almost to the halfway line – it was symptomatic of his dominant display.
By then, however, pace and skill at the other end had seen off the Newcastle challenge, aided by some dodgy defending and a comedy moment from the opposing number one – Krul had made a series of decent saves in the first half, but in the final seconds spilled a routine catch, and when Ryan Taylor tried to head the ball off the line, he only succeeded in nodding it against the back of his keeper’s head and in.
It was two shortly after the break as Walcott ran through the dink the ball beautifully over Krul, although Newcastle have cause to complain that the retreating Bendtner blocked Williamson as Theo bore down on goal. That Walcott would not have been caught is irrelevant – a foul is a foul and we would have complained vociferously had the tables been turned.
The Dane got the third in the final ten minutes when Cesc, on as a substitute, set him up to finish in style, and then Walcott wrapped up the rout with another cool finish at the end. Six goals for Walcott now this season, despite only three starts and three sub appearances – not a bad return by any standards.
There was still time for Joey Barton to be Joey Barton, taking out his frustration first on Eastmond and then Cesc, two quite idiotic challenges that earned him just a single yellow card. With his chequered past, and his repeated chances, you would think that if he were ever to grow up, he would have by now.
But all in all, it was a highly satisfying evening, made all the better by a full strength West Ham team, who we face on Saturday afternoon, being forced into extra time. The only real blot was another injury to Gibbs, a result of his own tackle early in the first half. The poor lad looked distraught coming off, and you have to worry that his knee is badly hurt. Fingers crossed for good news, but it doesn’t look promising.
A word too on the team selection – many are claiming that tonight showed a change in policy from Wenger, that he was taking the competition more seriously, but I don’t see it that way. We made nine changes from Sunday’s win, with Denilson and Djourou being the only two players to keep their place, and neither are first choice. That we looked strong was down to the large squad that everyone claims we don’t have.
So we move into the quarters yet again. After Spurs and Newcastle away, it would be great to get a home tie, but I have a funny feeling we’ll be off to Villa Park for another tough encounter. Just a hunch.
Mind you, we’ve got the hang of these away clean sheets now. Bring it on.