Having driven the 270 miles north we parked the car and passed a pub on our way to find a chippy, as we did so the pub just seemed to explode with noise, obviously Manchester City had equalised in their derby match at Old Trafford. A fine welcome to Geordieland and the chips weren’t bad either.
This was a good open match from the off. There was a time when we would have gone to St Jamess looking for no more than a point, but not under Arsene. Arsenal attacked from the off, Newcastle also had an attacking team out. So what followed was a classic English Premiership match with no quarter asked or given and some highly competitive individual battles, none more so than Campbell versus Shearer. It was also on occasions noisy, very noisy.
Keown cleared from Shearer’s surge into our box, Cole broke away, Seaman saved from Shearer who’d met a Robert cross and the match must have been all of ten seconds old. Handball stopped a move for us after Wiltord had gone on a run and Thierry took the free kick, setting up Dennis who drove it just past the post. Given needed to be quick off his line with our next attack. Sol and Mary Poppins collided, Arsenal won the free kick and the Toon army went berserk. Saint Shearer always puts it about and then falls down but on home turf there are few refs who dispute his halo. And if they do Alan always advises them of the error of their ways.
Wiltord took on three to many and another promising move ended. Bellamy broke but was caught offside as was often the case early doors. Our movement was good, the flow was there and as we gained the ascendancy the travelling Gooners asked ‘Where’s your famous atmosphere’ before giving a long rendition of ‘Arsenewengersredandwhitearmy’. Big ball out was the barcodes principle ploy in the first half but despite both Shearer and Bellamy backing in with almost every attack Sol and Martin were solid at the back.
A controlled break saw Henry win a corner and from it Vieira, I think, hit the underside of the bar off a possible deflection. The ball bounced down and got as far as Rob, I think, who headed over the bar. At the other end Shearer hauled down Campbell and the Geordies screamed for a penalty, apparently if Shearer is on the floor it must quite obviously be a penalty. Shearer had a volley well saved by Dave. Cole broke into their box but Given was out well. Fabulous turn by Sylvain, a far cry from his Boeing 747 turning circle of old. Keown saw off Bellamy who was a lively threat all match. Gilberto failed to spot Pat’s fine run and another attack was wasted.
Newcastle were caught offside again before Dennis won a corner with a left foot effort following a fine Arsenal combination move involving pretty well all our forwards. Henry’s deep corner was met by Sylvain who volleyed it into row PP, and yes the PP does stand for piss poor. Wiltord however had a good match, working well and popping up all over the pitch. Silva broke well but couldn’t quite find Henry. Wiltord found Pires at the end of another good move but his shot was wide. Lauren fouled Robert with a tackle from behind and earned the first yellow card of the day from Mr Neil Barry. At this stage we were outplaying Newcastle without making our dominance and excellent football pay, whereas United were over-reliant on the long ball.
Sol conceded a corner with Shearer pressing. Pat headed the corner clear and the cross that came back was far too deep. Dennis was fouled as Newcastle continue the long ball hoof. Shearer in on Cole, Cole stays down - no free kick just a throw. Dennis was pulled to the ground and totally bemused by the lack of a referee’s whistle. Sol fouled by Robert, nothing given. Shearer booked for clattering into Rob. Arsenal are the team playing all the football. To prove it there was a piece of genius shown by Pires and some even better stuff by Henry as his cross almost resulted in an own goal. Bellamy countered for a corner and Shearer clattered into the back of Martin, we won the free kick but the Geordies didn’t like it.
Another Arsenal move saw Wiltord play the final ball into the path of a moving Henry and he’s round the keeper and slotting home from an angle. It was 0-1 Arsenal - top drawer stuff from the Gunners. Cole put in a cross and it was all Arsenal. Great play by Wiltord. Lauren chopped - no yellow. Free kick scrambled away for a corner as Arsenal dominated. Long range Wiltord shot saved. Great football, another great break Henry to Pires. Vieira knocked over, nothing given. Pires tried a chip following a pass from Dennis but the keeper collected with ease.
Geordies break, win a corner off Ashley and we defend with all eleven. Poor ball from Sylvain when Henry was on, but then finds Gilberto who chips one but only won the corner. We looked the biz as the whistle went for half time, at this stage we were playing as well as we had at Leeds and Birmingham, but you just knew they’d be up for it after the break.
Lauren was hurt near his own goal line after he received a rash tackle from Robert who was awarded with a yellow card. Not long after this Robert lost his head completely. Dennis was looking to take a quick free kick and Robert stood in the way, almost on top of the ball. Bergkamp figured this was cheating so at the second or third attempt kicked the ball at the non-retreating no 32 who charged the ball down and lumped it at Lauren as the whistle blew. An obvious yellow for failing to retreat a yard, never mind ten. Two yellows equal a red so goodbye Robert. Controversy? What controversy? Stupidity got what it deserved as Dennis and Arsenal were denied the chance to find Henry in space you could argue that Robert saved them a valuable point and denied Arsenal all three. Parlour warming up.
Arsenal were hit by the energy for a while but gradually forced the momentum our way again. We hit some good balls in, waited in vain for obvious free kicks only to see them not given, endured some theatrics from Shearer which conned the lino. Two shots in quick succession from Henry and Wiltord had us back on top as we continued to build attacks deliberately with Newcastle dropping deeper. It was the usual ten v eleven match, with the ten seemingly giving that little bit more. ‘Same old Arsenal always cheating’ from the Geordies was met with ‘Champions’ and ‘You’ll never sing that song.’ Bellamy skinned Campbell on the goal line but the ball had gone out of play.
Wiltord on a run and Arsenal had got the momentum back as Lauren had a shot come cross go wide. Our moves were being worked for and being worked quite well, Cole was now a regular feature in attack. ‘We won the league in Manchester.’ Wiltord to Bergkamp to Gilberto but wasted. Pires almost found Vieira on a run. Henry was tugged back - not given, mind you not much was being given. Barry was treating the match like a blood and thunder cup-tie with no holds barred, two falls or a submission might even have won it at this stage! Shearer all over Keown and we got given that particular free kick. A Cole cross just beyond the far post saw an awkward ball headed over by Pires. Jeffers on for Bergkamp at a time when we were searching for the flowing football we’d played in the first half.
Gio and Ray on at the expense of Gilberto and Wiltord who both seemed to be tiring. Big passing move ended with Parlour winning a corner from his shot. Campbell headed the corner back to Vieira but his effort was saved. Another Geordie hoof and a great tackle from Gio. Pires and Bellamy at it. Henry crosses in for an easy take by Given. Hughes who’d been tugging the shirt of everyone who went past him fouled Cole all the way down the line, Cole took the bait and hacked back only to wind up with a yellow card himself.
As time ran out Parlour hit a great cross in, Vieira shot wide, Shearer was replaced by Ameobi. Seaman pulled off a brilliant back-peddling, tip it over type save from what appeared to be a deflected shot and the three minutes added time were not enough for either team to grab the winner.
All that remained was to trek back down all those stairs and the long trip home. The match had been a good one as had the atmosphere. Once they’d scored we were for once totally out sung, but as we were outnumber by over 16-1 this was no disgrace for the travelling Gooners, who as usual gave their all for the full 90. We really must discuss sore throat remedies some day.
I don’t usually get to hear the post match comments before knocking out a match report but having heard them they can’t go unmentioned. I’m not one who would normally have a pop at Le Boss, mainly because he’s a genius and I love him to death, but I didn’t rate Wenger’s criticism of the pitch either before or after the match. It’s always been part and parcel of the game in England to cope with all conditions, and all surfaces. If Manure can play on their perpetually replaced dung heap I see no reason for our team, with vastly superior players, not to be able to perform on any surface. Far less do I see any reason for Arsene to comment on it.
As for Sir Booby, I love his cranky ways and his absolute love and enthusiasm of the game, but what a pile of crap he talked about Robert’s second yellow. It was dumb, it was stupid and it was absolutely no fault of Dennis Bergkamp that Robert chose this match to actually do more than stand around and admire the work rate of others. Robert was a prat who prevented Dennis finding Henry in space with a quick free kick - end of story. The Toon army also made themselves look pretty dumb by continually booing Bergkamp for the rest of the match. Great supporters they maybe, arguing the toss for every throw in and challenge, but they don’t rate to highly with their knowledge of the rules do they?