It was a cold late afternoon with a blue sky, floodlights on from the start and an almost full moon over the East stand. Arsenal opened brightly with a stunning quickfire move, which included Dennis, Ashley and Thierry before going wide right to Rob. His cross was met by Flamini who saw his shot blocked from point blank range by Shay Given, the Geordies scrambled clear. An early let off for Newcastle. Not that we knew it at the time but the tone of the match had been set. A brilliant pass from Dennis to Rob was followed by a poor ball by Rob to Henry.
Play was fairly open with Arsenal edging possession as Bramble tripped Reyes near the halfway line. A great interception by Flamini took us forward and won a corner. More good play from Arsenal with a move that spread from left to right but Thierry’s shot was well off target. Shearer started as he meant to go on with a big shove in the back of Campbell and claims for a corner. Steve ‘I can’t see handballs in Cup Finals to save my life’ Dunn gave us the free kick, one decision he did get right. Taylor was booked shortly after for pulling down Vieira who had turned him brilliantly. Sol to Dennis to Thierry – almost.
As we got into the groove Kolo put one up for Flamini who controlled well and laid it off for Bergkamp to juggle on the run and slip past Given to make it 1-0.
‘There’s only one Dennis Bergkamp’ ‘Walking in a Bergkamp Wonderland’ Pat to Flamini who really looked the part today. Reyes inside for Henry who’s fine shot on the swivel was tipped around for another corner. Another brilliant long ball by Vieira found Lauren, wide on our right, who won a corner. We had five forward for another stunning break at speed but control was lost and the opportunity wasted. A wide free kick on their right, won by Shearer against Campbell, was easily held by Almunia who was a spectator for most of the first half. A cutback by Ameobi was fired into row WW by the much loved Bowyer (well there must be someone somewhere – his mother perhaps?). A Bergkamp shot out of nothing went wide at the near post. Shearer shoved Kolo in the back and won a free kick.
Reyes steamed in for his first foul of the match, on Bowyer, and was booked. This foul was a bad one but no worse than the ones missed by Dunn altogether. Half time arrived with steam coming out of a lot of ears both on and off the pitch. Words were said and Dunn was booed off the pitch.
Newcastle were out on the pitch early for the second half and Hughes replaced Taylor. An early Arsenal corner saw Kolo steaming in. Two quick fouls by the barcodes, the second being Boumsong on Bergkamp just outside the box. Henry’s shot from the free kick was on target but well saved by Given. Another brilliant ball by Bergkamp inside the full back was almost perfect for Reyes. Bowyer won a free kick but got some nose to nose verbals from Pat.
Robert had time to shoot wide from the free kick before being substituted by N’Zogbia whom Arsenal had failed to include in the matchday programme. Arsenal were closing down well, our passing was spot on and we were taking the game to Newcastle. Dennis backed in and won a free kick but we were caught offside from the ball in. A crap cross by Bernard had Bowyer fuming, so the crowd duly jeered him. Reyes put Cole away down our left and his brilliant cross-come-shot went just past the far post. Ashley stayed back a lot today and this was one of his rare sorties forward. Maybe because with Rob playing wide right and Flamini everywhere we looked more balanced and didn’t have to play everything down our left flank.
One great attack came when Reyes played a fine ball in from the left which Henry dummied, thus setting up Rob with golden opportunity and a clear shot at goal.But he failed to place it wide of Given who saved low with a solid left arm. Given’s performance today was superb.
The injured Boumsong was replaced by O’Brien before Cole had another rare charge forward. Great skill from Bergkamp and a killer ball saw Henry round the keeper and go down but a goal kick was given. Reyes then set up Henry with a golden opportunity that he missed, and then Newcastle scrambled clear yet again. There was a soft yellow card for Vieira as he tracked back in midfield, what made it seem worse was Shearer chopping down Pat from behind soon after but not getting carded.
Pires to Henry and another great save followed, as did two corners. Kolo stayed up and did well to regain possession but Flamini saw his shot deflected for yet another corner. Shame we never convert any, although we went very close quite a few times today. More corners followed and Pat headed one fairy close from Thierry’s ball in. Bowyer worked his way through and had a great chance but Almunia was able to save his low attempt. As this was probably their only shot on target all day it would have been a total injustice had they scored. Kolo had to clear a spot of danger after Flamini was caught napping for once. This apart we remained in almost total control throughout the half.
Reyes was replaced by Fabregas after 89 minutes which left time enough left for Jenas to chop down Pat and earn a yellow card. As one-nils go this one was a total massacre.