Arsenal had a fantastic opportunity to put some real pressure on Chelsea in the title race yesterday, but they blew that opportunity with yet another poor display at home. With the exception of the odd spell, the tempo that Arsenal usually play with was not on display, and they just cannot expect teams to lay down and die. You could argue that Arsenal were unlucky to have hit the bar a three times, and that Newcastle's keeper pulled off a fantastic save to deny Samir Nasri. I'm sure a lot of fingers will be pointed at Luzasz Fabianski today as well, but Arsenal were the architects of their own downfall.
The team was as expected, with Theo Walcott getting the nod over Andrey Arshavin, but I was a little surprised to see Robin Van Persie on the bench. For some strange reason Arsenal were again slow out of the traps, and never really got going in the first ten minutes. Eventually things started to click just a little bit, and a Cesc Fabregas free kick was deflected onto the bar by Andy Carroll in the Newcastle wall after 15 minutes.
As the half wore on Arsenal were well on top, but Newcastle were coping very well at the back with all of Arsenal's possession. With half time approaching it looked like Arsenal would make the breakthrough after a beautiful move saw Cesc play a perfect pass to Samir Nasri. His shot seemed destined for the top corner, but somehow Tim Krul got a hand to it to keep the scores level.
It seemed like we were watching the West Ham game all over again, as Arsenal flattered to deceive, and Newcastle put up a sterling defensive showing. That all change on the stroke of half time when Newcastle scored with their first attempt on goal. A free kick by Joey Baton just inside Arsenal's half was headed into an empty goal by Carroll, after Fabianski had come for it, and not got there. He had to come quite far off his line, and his timing was pretty poor which meant he got no real height in his jump, which gave Carroll the simple task of scoring.
Personally I think one of the Arsenal defenders should have pulled in behind the keeper when he came that far off his line. I also think that there should have been an Arsenal defender jumping with Carroll, but it was a bad error of judgement by Fabianski. He has performed admirably since Manuel Almunia got injured, and all keepers make mistakes. I still think his overall game is far better than that of Almunia, and he came for other similar type crosses later in the game which shows that it didn't hamper his confidence.
I'm sure plenty of Arsenal fans will be calling for his head on a plate today, but I think he should keep his place. Almunia was never dropped despite a run of errors, and his defence having no confidence in him at all. If Fabianski is to become a top class keeper he needs to stay in the team, and make up for that mistake by playing at his very best.
At half time I was worried that Arsenal were not going to be able to pick up the pace, as so many players were playing well below their best. However, they came out of the traps very quickly in the second half, and an equaliser looked very likely for the first ten minutes. In that time Walcott hit the bar with a cross, and then again with a shot, and Maraoune Chamakh almost got on the end of a ball by Alex Song. It seemed that the equaliser was inevitable, but then the tempo from Arsenal dropped again.
The boss quickly introduced Arshavin for Nasri, and soon after that RVP came on for Chamakh. It almost smacked of desperation to see RVP come on, and to be honest I didn't think he looked ready to play. He contributed very little, but Arshavin on the other hand was our best player as soon as he came on. Maybe he realised that his place isn't guaranteed, now that we have so many players coming back from injury.
Try as they might Arsenal created very little after that, with the exception of a Cesc header which was straight at the keeper. As the game neared it's end Laurent Koscielny found himself on the wrong side of Nile Ranger, 40 yards from Arsenal's goal, and on the side line. He felt it necessary to haul Ranger back, and when the referee issued a red card it was no real surprise. You could argue that Sebastien Squillaci might have been there to cover him, but the way Arsenal's day was going the red card was inevitable in my opinion.
It's very hard to find any positives from the game. For me the only players who looked anywhere near their best were Song and Arshavin and Cesc was again so far from his best that it was very worrying. I'm not sure if he's fit enough to be playing, or if he's just suffering from a lapse in form, but we need him at his very best before things get any worse. I also thought that Chamakh had an awful game and his form is suffering very badly at the moment. Maybe it's the thought of RVP coming back and taking his starting place, but surely that should spur him on to perform better.
With two tough away games in the next six days Arsenal are going to have to dig deep to keep pace with Chelsea and "Manure", or they will be faced with the task of playing catch up yet again. It was so frustrating to see Liverpool beat Chelsea later in the day, and know that we had yet again blown a chance to make up ground on them with a home defeat to a newly promoted team. The boss told us that there would be no lapse in concentration or complacency in this game, but how else can that performance be explained.
If Arsenal are going to be real contenders this season they need to start showing now. The injury situation is no longer an excuse, as our bench in yesterday's game oozed class. The big question now is can the players pick themselves up and win away to Wolves and Everton? Only they know the answer to that but I hope it's a positive one. That's the lot for today but I'll have my Premier League predictions later tonight.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
See You Tomorrow.