Missing from Arsenal's line-up today were Lauren and Diaby with long term injuries, plus short-term absentees Rosicky, Ljungberg and Gilberto. Baptista entered the fray from the kick-off along with Adebayor. Henry was on the bench thanks to that **** of a French manager who's happy to run his and our star players into the ground. Le Boss was inevitably giving due consideration to Tuesday's all-important European line-up with his team selection. For the Toon Turkish midfielder Emre was suspended, while Babayaro, Bernard and Owen all have long term injuries. Toon's marginal injury worries apparently involved Bramble, Taylor, Martins and Milner but they all played a part.
Lehmann was our nominal captain for the day; a pointless seniority thing doled out by Le Boss and personally I felt the armband should have gone to Kolo. We started with Van Persie looking the most likely to score because he adopted a shoot on sight policy. Adebayor was our most effective player however because he led the line with a willingness to make runs, battle and close down. Maybe however because he does not get enough run outs his fellows didn't always give him the support he deserved. His work rate was highly impressive especially compared to Baptista who looked as though he had yet to be introduced to the team. The beast showed some promise with good close control and the ability to run at defenders, but he was too happy to go to ground and looked unlikely to tackle his way out of brown-paper bag. The likelihood of him steaming into tackles currently appears somewhat remote which pretty well left Flamini to do the donkeywork and the absent Gilberto's covering. On his showing on the day I'm happy that Baptista is only on loan. My mate Trev was even less impressed and reckoned he was on the pitch instead of a heavy duty roller and even then only rolled a very small section of the beautiful turf.
With regards to our new turf, time out to appreciate just what a brilliant job Paul Burgess and his assistant groundsmen have done. The pitch looks absolutely immaculate. Considering how very recently the pitch was actually laid I think the work they've done is pretty miraculous.
All too often I felt that we were not in the right place at the right time when Newcastle had a rare counter attack. Toon defended throughout most of the match and although they had a fairly defensive line-up it was more a case of being forced back rather than sitting back. When they attacked we missed Gilberto because he wasn't there to cover the gaps, most of the time that wasn't a problem because Arsenal attacked in the main.
Our first half display was not overly impressive but as normal we had chances. Eboue to Baptista who hit it wide was our first. Atkinson showed his low standard of refereeing when he failed to spot Van Persie being hit in the back early on. There was the usual bit of Van Persie magic taking place but without Henry in the side he can become a bit greedy at times. Kolo stopped a break imperiously. We were attacking well enough and winning free kicks and corners but didn't have the killer bite required. Someone went over the top on Eboue by the Geordie shirt numbers are pretty well impossible to read so I'm not sure whom.
Fabregas blasted over. Given juggled a back pass before clearing. Flamini took out Butt. Handball given against Clichy when the ball clearly hit the arm and the crap lino in question (Mr. G Ward) was totally unsighted, still at least it stirred sections 15 and 14 into responding with a bit of verbals. Today was the first time I recall my section (15) all standing up and getting excited especially about the crap lino and blatant timewasting.
A Newcastle throw was given when the ball clearly wasn't out – the whole of the ball must be over the whole of the line Mr. Ward and it wasn't. Cesc was shooting with his left foot today as he did when he and Hleb had a tidy move that ended with Cesc's shot going over. Baptista went quite close from a free kick, which bent and dipped but cleared the bar. Eboue was taken out by Duff who picked up the first yellow card of the match. Shortly after our free kick Newcastle were breaking up the other end, Dyer cut inside Eboue all too easily and placed his shot low past Jens. A well-taken goal but we let them break and Eboue failed to close down Dyer. A bad goal to concede and 0-1 to Newcastle. Given (an unfortunate word to use for this game) that all our home League matches are 1-1 or 3-0 we already knew the final score.
Henry warmed up before kick off and replaced the injured Van Persie. A rare substitution on 45 minutes by Le Boss. Given started the half as he was to continue, with a great save from Adebayor's fine shot. Good moves were coming thick and fast but we were wasting crosses. In turn a Newcastle corner saw them waste what looked to be a free header. Henry offside. Fabregas with a shot blocked. Dyer was allowed to cut inside again but hit his shot wide. Hleb taken out and Ramage allowed to hoof the ball into the top tier when it was already out of play. The ref was clueless about timewasting and Mr Ward was ineffective in failing to advise Atkinson about such a ploy.
Clichy to Henry with an angled shot coming in from the left and another acrobatic save. Newcastle broke and Jens stopped the cross. Brilliant far post cross by Hleb but no one was there. Killer ball from Kolo to Cesc but his shot was saved. Eboue was tripped by Duff but the ref failed to act and Duff stayed down feigning injury. Clichy popped up on the right for a shot that was off target. Another decent Hleb cross won a corner. Fantastic chip by Fabregas to the far post that really required a Radford, Stapleton or Smith to be on the end of it.
A substitution for Arsenal with 27 minutes to play, this appears to be Le Boss' version of panicking. Theo came on for the beast, no surprise there. A corner, that could have gone anywhere but didn't go where we wanted it to. Worst decision of the game by Atkinson who awarded us a free kick in our box with a late whistle when Theo was already breaking on the right. Clear evidence of a totally clueless approach to the art of refereeing.
Henry was in with a chance on goal level with what there was of their back four but Taylor hauled him down. A yellow card was shown in a red card scenario. Henry took the perfect free kick, which creamed the underside of the bar. Given beaten at last. 1-1 and taunts of ‘Who are yer?' The Toon army had to this point been as vociferous away as they are silent at home these days. Bit like us really. For whatever the reason standing fans clearly make more noise.
An Adebayor flick and a Walcott shot, but offside. Walcott put in a couple of killer crosses that required a poacher to read them, we have no poacher. Solano replace by Milner. Fabregas carded for being late on Moore who had clearly riled him. Moore made a meal of it and took about a week to crawl indirectly off the pitch with a broken leg, within seconds his leg healed and he was matching Henry on a run.
Henry with an overhead scissors kick that was off target. More blatant timewasting. Hleb's cross was headed clear. A Fabregas shot deflected just past the post with Given beaten all ends up for once. When your luck doesn't happen, your luck doesn't happen. Great cross from Theo. Henry won a corner, as it appeared to come back off both player and post. Dyer holding not spotted.
A Henry shot saved. A Hleb solo finds Cesc who has another shot deflected for another corner. I reckon we might need to miss hit some our shots, like Drogba does, to induce a bit of luck. Duff replaced by N'Zogbia. Bramble on Cesc with a totally reckless tackle that only got a yellow card. The moves were still coming but the winning goal wasn't. Moore off injured to be replaced by Sibierski. N'Zogbia took out Theo and should have got a card. The Toon defending had been pretty desperate since Henry's goal and remained so well into added time. Given finally got a yellow card after 93 minutes for timewasting – how pointless was that? What effect did that have on the timewasting. Gallas got a yellow for stopping Martins on a break after about 94 minutes.
We had 23 goal attempts to Newcastle's 2 and this was exactly the same story as it was against Villa (19-5) Boro (21-1) and Everton (26-2). I have no idea how you only score 4 goals with 89 attempts, many of them good ones, or how you concede 4 from only 10 attempts. And another thing - yet again my lucky programme number wasn't even close and Emirates failed to pick my seat number for a free flight with both attempts. So it was yet another disappointing home game. Having said that I still hugely enjoyed the football we played and I enjoyed the fact that Thierry got the message sent back to him by the fans because he stayed on to applaud those of us who were still there for the final whistle.
Talking of staying till the final whistle it's surely time to inaugurate the ‘AFC Final Whistle Club' – I'm looking for 60,000 members a game – are you up for it? There must be a way that we the real fans can shame the early leavers into staying – what do you think?