Thursday, December 7, 2023

Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal: Tiote lesson

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A quite massive three points yesterday, achieved without key players, against a good side in excellent form, and despite a referee who ignored countless fouls by the home side.

I thought the first half was mostly even and that our somewhat makeshift midfield of Rosicky, Wilshere and Cazorla combined well, especially with Flamini anchoring. Attempts at fluency were made difficult by good Newcastle defending, but also their ability to foul with impunity. How Tiote went through the entire game without a card is, and always will be, a mystery to me.

Giroud took nasty studs to the top of his foot but then got booked himself for a foul moments later. I’ve got no issue with his yellow as long as the one that should have been given beforehand is issued. Tiote pulled someone back. We didn’t really create a great deal, some shots from distance from Rosicky and Cazorla were little trouble to Krul.

Tiote kicked someone. And late on we put ourselves in danger. Koscielny carelessly gave the ball away leading to a passage of play which saw Szczesny forced into making a save and from the subsequent corner they hit the bar with a looping header. It remained even at the break.

Newcastle put in some dangerous looking crosses early in the second half but that bloke Loic Remy, who everyone wants us to sign, didn’t seem interested in them at all. Maybe he was keen on not upsetting us, or something. Tiote booted an Arsenal player.

Then Tiote stood on Cazorla’s heel, quite deliberately. Still no booking but at least we got a free kick this time. The deliciousness of scoring from a Tiote foul still tickles me this morning. Theo Walcott curled in a very good dead ball, Giroud got between the central defenders and glanced home the header. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

It was almost 2-0 a few moments later when Theo was put through, his shot was saved but he headed the rebound onto the bar. When it came out to Giroud he miskicked from a couple of yards out. Tiote crunched someone and Newcastle got it clear.

After that it was kind of backs to the wall stuff. And you know what? We’re quite good at that kind of defending these days. It was reminiscent of last season when we’d score and then simply hang onto the slender lead we had. Plenty of practice in that run in was good preparation for yesterday. The back four were excellent, led by Per Mertesacker who made a total of 16 clearances during the game. There was nostalgia for days of yore when Gibbs went off (I assume because of injury), and Flamini filled ably in at left back. Tiote smashed someone.

It’s a testament to how good the defending was that the best chance Newcastle had to score was from an Arsenal mistake. Szczesny booted the ball straight into Remy’s face then did a little jig of relief as he saw the ball trickle past the post. I’m a big fan of his, but that’s two games in a row he’s made bad errors. Thankfully, neither cost us points, but Arsene needs to bring Fabianski into a room, show Szczesny the back of his hand and say ‘Ehhh? Ehhhh?!’, just to scare him straight.

Tiote raked someone. In the end they were throwing up the keeper for corners and when we cleared one Jenkinson might have been a bit more alert and might have created a chance for Bendtner. I say might, because the keeper was already back his area by the time he turned around, and there were Newcastle defenders running back while Bendtner was static.

Also, I think in circumstances like that, when you’re under the cosh, you really need to try and slow things down, waste some time and keep the ball for a bit. So Jenkinson threw it to Bendtner who gave it to Wilshere who promptly lost it and we were under pressure again, so what do I know? Other than Wilshere probably shouldn’t be trying to dribble past three men that high up the pitch.

Tiote walloped someone. However, all Newcastle’s pressure came to nothing. The Arsenal defence stood firm and the three points, the three hard-fought points, were ours. Tiote, hopefully, kicked himself. Afterwards, Arsene said:

I am very happy. It was a very intense game against a good Newcastle team. We got a big physical challenge today. There is something in the team that is special on the mental front where we have many times been questioned. But we have shown that at West Ham when we were 1-0 down, we have shown that again today when we were a bit backs to the wall in the last 15 minutes. There’s a great solidarity and a great spirit in the side.

There are days when you’ve got to win ugly, and we certainly did that yesterday. The three points were really all that mattered but it’s not as if there weren’t positives too. Giroud’s goal will do him the world of good, I’m sure. Whatever about the missed chance afterwards, it was his goal that was the difference between 1 point and 3, and I thought his all-round game was much better yesterday too.

The absence of goals does, understandably, make it easy to overlook what else he brings to the team but he does play an important role in keeping the ball in tight positions high up the pitch. Some of his chests/headers were immaculate, under real pressure from the Newcastle defenders, and that’s the difference between being in control of the ball or scrapping to win it back.

The win was also crucial in the context of the league overall. When you look at how Chelsea, for example, have benefited from referees in the last two games it was massively important that we won in spite of the official yesterday. Mourinho might complain about pundits, as if they’re in any way relevant to anything, but in their last two games incorrect decisions about penalties to the opposition have been the difference between them taking 6 points from those games rather than just 1.

I don’t want to suggest any kind of conspiracy, I genuinely just think the standard of officiating is getting worse and worse. This season in particular we’ve seen absurd decisions given against almost every team which have cost them points. Referees no longer seem in control of games, there’s almost always an obvious mistake. The only way it will get better is more transparency (as if!) and a 5th official who can view decisions on video.

I have, up to now, been more or less against that, but this season, and the ridiculousness of the decisions we’re seeing every single weekend, means I’d welcome any efforts to help them get more things right. Anyway, that’s a bit of a pipe dream really, all we can do is hope that the next time something goes against us it’s not fatal.

We now rest a bit ahead of Cardiff. We might well be without Mesut Ozil again after the manager said he could miss 2-3 games with a shoulder problem, and Giroud’s cut foot may see a start for Podolski or Bendtner, but no doubt we’ll get some updates before Wednesday.

For now, we enjoy the points and being back on top of the table. Till tomorrow.

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