One of the last Premier League matches in 2013 saw Newcastle welcome high flying Arsenal to St. James’ Park.
Newcastle came off the back of beating Stoke 5-1 while Arsenal have been going through a slight sticky patch of late.
The first half saw both sides battle in the midfield, fundamentally cancelling each other out with high pressure and cleverly retained possession. However, it never developed into anything substantial for either side. Arsenal started as the better side by pushing the home side into their final third and dominating the ball. However, Newcastle held out well for the first quarter as they began to establish an attack through Loïc Rémy and Moussa Sissoko.
Jack Wilshere, Tomáš Rosický and Santi Cazorla all had shots from the edge of the box comfortably saved by Tim Krul, while Mathieu Debuchy showed his attacking talents by bombing down the right hand side at every opportunity. The Frenchman even had a couple of half chances on goal, including a strongly hit volley from the right side of the box go wide.
Alan Pardew’s side finished the half the stronger team, with a penalty shout not being given. Arsenal’s Mathieu Flamini, who had a rare Premier League start because of an injury to Mesut Özil, lunged in on Moussa Sissoko, bringing the Frenchman down on the edge of the box. Replays show that it was a foul, but not inside the box.
As the first half went into extra time, Moussa Sissoko had a thunderous effort from 20 yards tipped just over the ball for a corner. From the resulting corner, Mathieu Debuchy saw his looping header from beyond the back post hit the crossbar.
The central players continued to clash during the second half, with the attacking talent from both sides producing very little in the face of a strong, physical opposition. Goal scoring chances continued to elude both teams, but Arsenal’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and fullback Bacary Sagna nearly allowed an opening for Newcastle when they clashed dealing with a cross. The mistake didn’t fall to a Newcastle player to turn into a goal.
Arsenal eventually took the lead through the slightest of touches from Olivier Giroud’s header which took Theo Walcott’s central free-kick past Tim Krul. The free-kick appeared to be given somewhat fortunately by referee Lee Probert, who had an inconsistent game at best.
Shortly after, Theo Walcott had a chance to put his side two ahead when he was threaded into the box by Jack Wilshere. His first effort was a tamely hit stretched shot which hit Tim Krul bursting out of goal. The ball went back to Walcott who attempted a lob shot, which was saved off the line before Olivier Giroud hit a snatched shot wide.
Newcastle then took the pressure up a couple of notches by tackling Arsenal hard and running at them directly. They had another great penalty shout when Mathieu Debuchy tried to turn close to the byline, well inside Arsenal’s box. It appeared that Mathieu Flamini pulled the full-back down, but the referee waved it on.
Wojciech Szczęsny pushed his luck once again when his attempted clearance from a back pass hit Loïc Rémy in the face and the deflection went only a few feet wide of Arsenal’s goal. Newcastle continued to press in an attempt to find an equaliser, even sending Tim Krul up for corners in the dying minutes. Their best chance came when substitute Hatem Ben Arfa drove down the right hand side, cut back inside past Flamini’s sliding tackle, but then shot well into the side netting when their was five team-mates inside the box waiting for a cross.
The win puts Arsenal top of the league over the New Year. The four previous Premier League champions have all achieved this status at this time. So, it comes as a good omen for Arsène Wenger’s side. Alan Pardew will be happy with the performance, but disapointed that it didn’t produce at least a point.