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Arsenal 0 - 1 Newcastle: match report

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0 - 1 Carroll 45'
Koscielny red card 91'

Arsenal fell to defeat at home to a newly-promoted side for the second time in two months today, as Newcastle scraped a 1-0 win on the back of an Andy Carroll first-half header from a Joey Barton free kick.

From the opening, the game was quite tight.  Arsenal struggled to maintain possession for meaningful stretches of time in the first fifteen minutes as Newcastle filled gaps in the middle and cut off passes consistently.  Andy Carroll, who was excellent on the day in terms of coming back to help his defense, combined with Shola Ameobi to provide outlets when Newcastle won possession back in their half.  Although Newcastle had no shots at all until Carroll's injury time goal forty-six minutes in, they also contained Arsenal's attack very well.

Cesc Fabregas, in particular, had a woeful match, completing only 44 of 60 passes:

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Arsenal generated few moments of note until the 39th minute, when Fabregas managed to find Samir Nasri near the edge of the area with a cutback, but the Frenchman's shot was saved well by Tim Krul, who went some distance to atoning for the 4-0 defeat in the Carling Cup of twelve days ago.

The breakthrough of the match came for Newcastle six minutes later.  A wayward Fabregas pass was intercepted by Newcastle, putting the Arsenal defenders under undue pressure.  Bacary Sagna fouled Jonas Gutierrez, and up stepped Joey Barton to take the free kick.  This was always going to be a danger on the day for Arsenal, and Barton floated the kick towards the far post.  Lukasz Fabianski didn't come strongly enough for it and mistimed his jump, and the beast that is Andy Carroll got his head to the ball before the keeper could punch it.  The ball looped home, and the away fans went bonkers as halftime arrived.

The halftime stats showed that Arsenal had attempted over 70% of their attacking play through the middle, and it was apparent that Newcastle were content to sit deep and clog the passing lanes as much as possible.  Combined with the Arsenal midfield's wayward passing (Jack Wilshere excepted), it was always going to be difficult, and the start of the second half, although brighter, led to a similar fate.

Arsenal started off a little more brightly, but again they struggled to find room in the final third to generate good chances.  Theo Walcott rattled the crossbar with a wicked shot from a sharp angle on the right, and that was as close as Arsenal would come for the rest of the match, really.  Wenger made changes as the hour rang out: Andrei Arshavin came on for Samir Nasri, and Robin van Persie (who was rusty) came on to joyous chants in place of Chamakh.

It made little difference, although Arshavin showed sparks of making the right side of Toon's defense uncomfortable.  van Persie proved as marginalized as Chamakh had been, having little service and no time to do anything with the ball.  Fabregas continued to attempt passes in the air that were perhaps too ambitious on the day, eschewing the quick ground game that Arsenal usually employ.

Newcastle slowly began to starve the game out, engaging in fierce displays of time-wasting and screwing around.  The introduction of Nicklas Bendtner for Jack Wilshere signalled Wenger's intent to press forward for an equalizer, but it made little difference.  Injury time beckoned, and in the ninety-first minute, Nile Ranger managed to get around Laurent Koscielny and head towards goal.  30 yards out, the Frenchman reached out and pulled back Ranger, and Mike Dean did not hesitate to send him off.

It was a decision that was not entirely necessary, as Sebastien Squillaci appeared to have his compatriot covered, and it seems likely that Wenger will appeal the decision.  If he does not, Koscielny will miss three games two games.

It was a disappointing game, the overreaction afterwards indicative of a growing impatience on the part of the Arsenal fans.  November has started as it always seems to, and the team has no choice but to pick themselves up.  Although Arsenal's attack today was very poor, defensively they managed to contain a potent Newcastle team, who admittedly didn't throw numbers forward.  Carroll scored on a free kick that should not have had to happen, he wasn't marked well by any Arsenal player, and Fabianski hesitated.  Other than that moment, Arsenal coped well with Carroll and Ameobi and Joey Barton in the few opportunities that they had to do so.

Nonetheless, it wasn't good enough, and an opportunity missed to gain ground on Chelsea, who lost 2-0 at Liverpool later in the day.