Newcastle United 0-0 Arsenal: Positive Aspects to a Dull Match

There will be those who rip into the team today for what was, admittedly, a furiously lackluster offensive performance. They won't be incorrect, either. However, I find myself focusing on the fact that this was a fantastic defensive performance and a point decently won in controversial circumstances. In other words, we had a better day than Liverpool, at least (who dropped two points at home to Sunderland after taking the lead).

The back five largely picked itself, with the benefit of Kieran Gibbs passing fit. Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey patrolled the center (a switch back for Ramsey, who had played in the front midfield three in preseason), while Tomas Rosicky, Andrei Arshavin and Gervinho played behind Robin van Persie. It certainly isn't the strongest possible starting 11, though it was about as good as we were going to get in the wake of That Tedious Transfer Saga and That Other Tedious Transfer Saga.

While there was no first-minute goal like there was in this fixture last season, the Arsenal started brightly and created a few half-chances. Ramsey had a shot blocked while Gervinho looked threatening when taking defenders on (the less said about his final ball today though, the better). We also had our first bit of controversy soon after, as Steven Taylor elbowed Bacary Sagna in the head when going up for a header. It definitely wasn't a red card (as the guy to my left screamed out at jet engine decibel levels), but it surely was a yellow. It's worth mentioning that Taylor didn't even get a talking-to for that.

Perhaps the best chance of the first half though came from the return of Newcastle Comedy Defense (though I should mention that this moment aside, they defended quite well and Steven Taylor had a decent shout for Man of the Match). Gervinho's cross was cut out by Taylor, but his clearance slammed off of his central defense colleague, Fabricio Coloccini. It spun out to van Persie, who would have scored had Taylor not made an excellent recovery to get a piece of it. How easily it could have ballooned past Tim Krul and in instead of wide of the far post, though. Oh well...swings and roundabouts.

The Magpies started to find their feet and slowly got back into the game, albeit without seriously troubling Wojciech Szczesny's goal. Still, they did put in some decent crosses - had Manuel Almunia been in between the sticks, we might have had a different conversation. The young Pole confidently claimed just about all of them, and solidly punched away the ones he couldn't catch. It makes an incalculable difference to a defense when they know that they can rely on their goalkeeper, and it showed today.

Arsenal were able to fashion a few more half-chances, and honestly the lads probably should have done better on one or two. In particular, a mistake from the Newcastle rearguard let Andrei Arshavin in on a 2-on-1 with just Coloccini back, I think. Instead of taking him on or doing something useful, his tame pass to Gervinho was easily cut out. The frustration continued when a goal-line scramble concluded with a brilliant block on the line from Danny Simpson.

So, halftime then...and it was Newcastle who made the first change with the anonymous Demba Ba replaced by Gabriel Obertan (who, incidentally, was also anonymous). Personally, I thought Arshavin should have been withdrawn for Walcott at the interval, as the Russian was off the pace once again. Still, Arsenal nearly flipped the script on Newcastle by scoring on a set piece. Sadly, van Persie's rasping free kick sailed just the wrong side of the crossbar...though you could argue that Krul may have had a shot at it if it were on target.

The talking points continued shortly thereafter, with Alex Song guilty of a sly stamp on the leg of the odious Joey Barton - who has clearly missed his calling. He's the best heel that pro wrestling never had. Still, Song absolutely should have walked for that transgression, and the fact that he didn't was a huge reason that Arsenal walked away with a point today.

On the hour, the change I had pined for did happen, with Walcott coming on. It ended up not mattering, though. His pace wasn't really there today, and he didn't unduly trouble the Newcastle backline at any time. Still, just taking Arshavin off immediately made us more dangerous, and Theo did fire off one shot that Krul did decently well to hang onto.

Then, fifteen minutes from time, the fireworks well and truly went off.

Gervinho steamed into the penalty area, and went down remarkably easy on a challenge from Chieck Tiote. Fair's was a dive and a risible one at that. Barton came barreling over, grabbed Gervinho by the shirt, lifted him up and then had his hands at the man's face/throat area. For his part, the Ivorian stupidly raised his hands towards Barton's face. The fucking piece of shit went down clutching his noggin like a sniper took him out from the rooftop, and our Incompetent Match Official Du Jour Peter Walton completely bought it. How on earth his linesmen didn't see the whole incident, I'll never know. The end result was red for Gervinho, and only a yellow for the guy that started the fracas in the first place for no reason. The mind boggles.

Seriously, I would LOVE to hear the explanation of this from the esteemed Mr. Walton. Perhaps, at 51, this game just may be passing him by.

The good news though is that as Newcastle applied more pressure as the game wound down, the backline held firm. Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen were absolutely immense, breaking up attacks and dealing with set pieces beautifully. Both fullbacks also had a storming game, Gibbs in particular. Wenger brought on Emmanuel Frimpong for Rosicky and Johan Djourou for Ramsey, and that helped shore things up.

Actually, Djourou rampaged forward right at the death, but his pass to the onrushing Walcott was...well...the pass of a central defender. That was the last serious chance of the game, and the spoils were shared on the day.

Now, here's the thing. Taken on its own, this was a fairly positive result as I mentioned. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on just how awful we were on the attack today. Without Tedious Transfer Saga Subjects # 1 and # 2, this team has all the penetrative ability as a pensioner with ED. As currently constituted, reinforcements are absolutely necessary if we're going to salvage anything from this season. The kids that have come in are all nice little lottery tickets to have for the future, but with the way things stand at this club it's not good enough right now. This is a team at a crossroads, and what I don't think Mr. Wenger understands is that the only thing harder than becoming a big club is getting back there once you've lost it. We are in clear and present danger of losing that status, which in turn would make it even more difficult to attract players of any real quality to the club. We don't pay them the sums that other clubs do, so all we really have to offer is pretty football and the chance of winning things. Take away the chance of winning things, and all we're left with is pretty football. Well, Blackpool plays pretty football too, but they aren't signing Juan Manuel Mata anytime soon.

All of that is a concern for another day, though. At the very least, an aspect of our game that was an open, bleeding chest wound last season is the same aspect that got us a hard-won point today. For now, I'll take it.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 8, Vermaelen 9, Koscielny 9 (MOTM), Sagna 8, Song 7, Ramsey 7 (Djourou N/A), Arshavin 5 (Walcott 6), Rosicky 7 (Frimpong N/A), Gervinho 5, van Persie 6