EPL 2007-2008: Newcastle 1 – Arsenal 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
December 6th, 2007 • 9:28 am

A rather unconvincing performance by the Gunners, which leaves them just 4 points ahead of their nearest rivals, rather than 6. We know that they are not going to win all their games, but this was a game where some older ghosts reared their ugly heads, namely the ghost of tough trips to the north of England, the ghost of Fat Sam’s bullying tactics, etc.

This year’s Arsenal team is supposed to be tougher and ready for a more physical challenge. But I think that what last night demonstrated was that players like Flamini and Fábregas are an essential component of that tougher approach. Without them, and with the unconvincing Gilberto in midfield, there was just an unsightly amount of lost possession, and a lack of midfield dominance.

It all started beautifully, with Adebayor converting a great chance into a terrific goal. It showed fantastic technique, and the Newcastle keeper had no chance.

But the goal probably came too early in the game, without the Gunners having to build any kind of momentum for it.

Instead, the momentum soon switched to the Newcastle side. The only question was whether they’d be able to sustain this kind of pressure for the full 90 minutes, and the answer was yes, more or less. It was no doubt due to the “crisis” brewing at Newcastle, and in that respect we just caught them at the “wrong” time.

To their credit, the pressure was never really excessively physical, in the borderline illegal sort of approach that Fat Sam used so often at Bolton. They just fought for every ball, throughout the entire game, and unfortunately this particular team of Gunners did not seem to have an answer for that. Arsène Wenger really needs to find an approach that enables his players to extricate themselves out of this kind of sustained pressure and continue to create some attacking moves just the same.

I have little doubt that players like Fábregas, Hleb, and Flamini would have given more of an edge to the Arsenal side. Diarra fought hard, but still wasn’t able to create much all by himself. Gilberto was rather disappointing again, and Rosicky, Éboué and Eduardo did not create much. The back four were too busy coping with the Newcastle pressure to be able to make a contribution on the offensive side. And so it was a game of very few chances for the Gunners. It’s a good thing that Adebayor took the very first one so beautifully!

There would probably have been a couple of good chances near the end of the game if the referee had not obviously made the wrong decisions, but in truth an Arsenal victory would have been very lucky indeed. A draw was ultimately a fair result, simply because, for all their sustained pressure, this Newcastle side simply did not have the quality to carve out real scoring chances.

One thing that continues to puzzle me with this Arsenal side is how little benefit we derive from all the dead ball situations we get through any given game. It is almost as if the corner kicks, free kicks, etc. are all a total waste of time and energy. It’s the same with every game we play, so it’s not really down to the quality of the opposition. I suspect that dead balls are simply not part of Arsène Wenger’s focus in training, and that it puts the emphasis on creating goals through fluid passing movements. It’s all well and good, but when we don’t have the time and space to create fluid passing movements, then we need to have an alternative, and for most teams this alternative is dead ball situations. Teams like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United score lots of crucial goals through lucky free kick deflections, corner kicks, etc. We don’t get enough goals that way. We don’t seem to have a good free kick / corner kick taker in the team—except possibly for van Persie, who unfortunately is still missing through injury. Something really has to be done about this.

All in all, though, I suppose that a point at Saint James’ Park is not a bad result. It still leaves us four points clear at the top of the table. A six point advantage would have been really nice, but four points is still pretty good at this stage in the season. It will be even better if we can get a victory at Middlesborough on Sunday and maintain the distance before the compact run of games during the holiday season.

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