Joey Barton and Gervinho discuss dinner plans
There should now be a disclaimer in all Arsenal matches and it should read playing without Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri can be injurious to your chances.
However, this is not completely true, the midfield against Newcastle minus its two leading lights was actually quite functional if not particularly penetrative. Andrey Arshavin had a few moments of sparkle with a very visionary chip that found Robin Van Persie in an advantageous position versus Tim Krul. Unfortunately, he made a meal of trying to circulate onto his stronger left foot and Krul and Steven Taylor were able to collar the ball.
What was noticeable right away was Arsenal’s speed in midfield with Arshavin, Aaron Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky accelerating their way upfield with less linkage than Fabregas would have liked but it was the forward players who were wasteful. Gervinho was a relentless presence down both flanks but his finished product was awful. RVP had an exceedingly poor game except for a well taken set piece but that was about the extent of his contribution. Its clear Arsenal lack that all important clinical finisher.
The defensive aspect was one of the few positives in this frustrating opener. Arsenal looked very organized in the back with Thomas Vermaelen back and Laurent Koscielny elevating his game. Bacary Sagna was his usual solid self and Kieran Gibbs was surprisingly a reassuring presence taking on an aggressive Cheikh Tiote.
Wojciech Szczesny’s impressive development continues seeing off Newcastle’s set pieces without too much trouble.
Alexander Song put some extra mustard into his tackles and in one of the two controversial moments sent a message stamping on Joey Barton. It would have been a straight red card had Peter Walton or other officials caught it but luckily Song survived.
Here comes the part which does not jive with the caricature of Barton as a wild eyed loon. He did not go after Song which is why he was baited in the first place instead he made his point on the sideline with the fourth official. He preserved himself and then turned table after his cynical tit for tat got Gervinho sent off. This was a calculated ploy and once again Arsenal’s naivety was exposed by Barton.
With 15 minutes left there was every chance that Newcastle could come up with a damaging last minute goal. Wenger brought on Emanuel Frimpong and then Johan Djourou in order to avoid yet another painful flashback to those set piece goals that destroyed Arsenal last season. Fortunately, the defense held strong.
A draw given these circumstances, even a goalless one, is a good result. The midfield needs to show more patience but the defense looked solid. On the other hand we do not need another winger.
How Arsenal steps up in a post Fabregas and Nasri era is obviously one of the key concerns. But this display also tells us we’re becoming a sideshow whose performance is now dictated by the number of controversies generated. Our manager is the media’s ideal of the Fool on the Hill. It’s not the John Terry type sleaze that dogs this club – it’s the mentally fragile born under a bad sign sort of stuff that results in own goals, red cards, and bottled water projectiles.
This month sets a template for any realistic expectations as next week brings the CL playoffs against Udinese and thereafter two enormously significant encounters against Liverpool and Man Utd. Injuries and suspensions are already proving a headache for Wenger in deciding his squad’s composition and his body language during and after the Newcastle match was bad.