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Arsenal 0 - Newcastle 0 match report: frustrating

It’s a decent point. On another day, Arsenal win.

Arsenal FC v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

On another day, Arsenal beat Newcastle. And you really can’t say the same for the visitors, at least not based on the negative, anti-football shift they put in at the Emirates this evening. A draw suits Eddie Howe more, but Mikel Arteta can’t be too upset with the result.

In fact, the Arsenal manager said he was “proud” of how his team dominated possession and controlled the game. He correctly pointed out that Arsenal could have been a touch sharper in the final third. And he bemoaned that his side were twice denied penalties, calling the decisions “scandalous.”

Arteta was being generous. Arsenal had three penalty shouts denied — Gabriel Magalhaes nearly having his shirt pulled off on a free kick, Eddie Nketiah being grabbed from behind, and Jacob Murphy blocking a cross with his arm. The shirt pull on Gabriel was the most egregious. He beat his marker with his first step to get inside and beyond him and was wrestled to the ground with a full handful of shirt grab that was so blatant it started to take the shirt off his body. That’s given as a penalty at least 7 times out of 10 and probably more like 8 or 9 times from 10.

Sven Botman’s grab of Eddie Nketiah was probably the weakest claim and likely the incident from the three that stuck out to me that Mikel Arteta was not talking about. The more I watch the replay, however, the stronger of a claim I think Arsenal have. There is a clear shirt pull and an arm wrapped around the striker from behind. I’m torn between rating it “a bit harsh to give” and “you’ve seen them given” but Arsenal didn’t get it.

Jacob Murphy was extremely lucky to not concede a handball penalty in the 95th minute. He blocked Granit Xhaka’s cross with an arm that was clearly away from his body, making his profile bigger. Referee / VAR incompetence aside, the only explanation for it not being given as a penalty is proximity. And I think they’ve gotten it wrong.

If you took the crests and colors off the kits to take partisan bias out of the equation, I think anybody who watches football would feel like Arsenal were hard done by.

I agree with Mikel Arteta’s assessment of how Arsenal played tonight. His side played pretty well. If you want to nitpick, Granit Xhaka forced things a bit too much, and Gabriel Martinelli wasn’t as effective on the dribble as he normally is. It’s disappointing that the Gunners weren’t able to make more of the Bukayo Saka-Dan Burn matchup because the Arsenal winger had the man on skates all night long. That one-on-one might have played out a bit differently had Burn been correctly booked for any one of his two or three card-worthy offenses.

Miguel Almiron, who had been on a scoring tear in top form, did absolutely nothing. Bruno Guimaraes was resoundingly out-dueled by Thomas Partey, so much so that you hardly noticed the former was on the pitch when he wasn’t fouling someone or whining at the referee. Callum Wilson was rendered a non-factor by Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba. Alex Zinchenko’s passing was magnificent — it was a joy to watch him break the Newcastle lines again and again (18 times in total).

Arsenal out-everything’ed Newcastle in every aspect of the match other than on the scoreboard, which admittedly, is the important bit. But if you play that exact match 10 times, the Gunners win 7 and draw 3. Newcastle don’t ever win playing like that. A draw against Newcastle, even at the Emirates, isn’t a bad result. But it’s a frustrating outcome for how the match played out, especially with Manchester City lurking in second place.

While I generally think it’s a bit tacky and crass to have a go at your opponents when you don’t like the result of a match, Newcastle deserve every bit of scorn for the performance they put in this evening. It was awful. They tried to kick Arsenal off the pitch, surrounded the referee to whine about every call, fake injuries, and generally time-wasted at every opportunity. Eddie Howe did it for years with his teams at Bournemouth, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s doing it at Newcastle as well.

Depending on where you look (the stat varies by who is tracking it), the ball was in play for 53 minutes. That’s well below the 61 minute average in the Premier League this season. The referee did not book any Newcastle players for time-wasting (but Arsenal got a first-half booking for delay against Brighton at the weekend), and he only added on seven minutes total across both halves. And I’d be surprised if the ball was in play for half of them. I’m not sure you’ll get clearer evidence of why teams waste time. It works. The Premier League has got to get it under control.

Newcastle also take full advantage of Premier League referee’s hesitancy to consistently book for professional fouls to stop transition attacks, and their seeming inability to recognize and control rotational fouling. As I mentioned earlier, Dan Burn committed multiple card-worthy offenses and wasn’t cautioned. Bruno Guimaraes, who was on a booking at the time, could have seen a second yellow for running up to the referee, asking for a card. Or for the multiple times he kicked the ball away to waste time and prevent Arsenal taking a quick restart. Both Burn and Guimaraes remonstrated at the referee over calls, but only Alex Zinchenko was booked for dissent in the match. Joelinton was doing his best Macho Man Randy Savage impression, dropping elbows left and right. I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

Honestly, I’m disappointed with Newcastle. I’d hoped they’d be better. I thought they were an actual team that played real football. But based on tonight’s performance, they are not. I suppose you could look at it as a mark of respect that Eddie Howe gameplanned as he did. He knows his team can’t punch with Arsenal in a fair fight, so he fought dirty.

They’re pretenders, not contenders. They may be the “best of the rest” but they aren’t on the same level as Arsenal and Manchester City. At least not right now. The disappointing part is that they have the money to attempt to buy titles like City have done over the past decade plus. Newcastle are also being propped up by surrendering about 8.5 goals fewer than you’d expect them to have done. If / when that regresses towards the mean, they’ll be firmly among Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, and whoever else you want to lump into the Champions League spot race.

And I’d love it if broadcasters, pundits, and journalists would stop praising them for accomplishing what they set out to do when their aim was to play as little football as possible and to bend the rules as much as they could. That’s not what I want the Premier League to be. They should be excoriated and ridiculed for it.

Is all that analysis colored by my Arsenal support? Absolutely. But I think we agree that when a referee adopts a more, shall we say, permissive attitude towards a match, the high-skilled team suffers. That’s absolutely happened this evening. It would be really nice if Arsenal, just once, could be officiated like the top of the table team they are, especially in their own ground.

I’ve got the sourest of sour grapes tonight. I’m extra salty. I am not happy with today’s match. If you couldn’t tell.