A Towering Achievement That Preserves Possible Coronation

BathGooner reflects on Arsenal's excellent 2-0 victory over Newcastle at St James's Park at the weekend

A Towering Achievement That Preserves Possible Coronation

BathGooner's excellent report from St James's Park first appeared on a wonderful site dedicated to a friend of many at the Gooner Fanzine, Goonerholics Forever, in memory of the much-loved and much-missed Dave Faber

A Towering Achievement That Preserves Possible Coronation by BathGooner.

This Newcastle vs Arsenal report from BathGooner was first posted on the brilliant Goonerholics Forever site dedicated to a friend of so many at the Gooner Fanzine, the late Dave Faber. 

Goonerholics Forever is dedicated to much-missed and much-loved Dave and we republish BathGooner's report with their permission. For more on their excellent site click here 

Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal 

After a season replete with wonderful attacking football, newly reliable defending, a moving new anthem and the first title challenge in ages, the Arsenal travelled in hope to the home of the former Geordie paupers now reincarnated as the shameless sports-washing vehicle of a despicable regime. This fixture stood out as the biggest remaining hurdle after our disappointing trip to east Manchester and was yet another ‘must win’ as victory was essential to maintaining our faint hope of winning the title.

As expected, after his solid performance against Chelsea, Jorginho kept his place in the centre of midfield and Martinelli replaced Trossard on our left flank. Apart from Martinelli’s return, the rest of the team was the one that started against Chelsea. The ‘codes started their usual man mountain defence, a robust midfield of Joelinton, Guimares and Willock with Murphy, Wilson and Isak up front. The latter two started together for the first time – a declaration of offensive intent by Howe whose team, so negative when they visited the Grove, have been scoring goals for fun recently.

As also expected, the home crowd provided an extremely hostile reception from kick off, though not nearly as hostile as that received by Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.  The Arsenal displayed confident ball control and movement from kick off appearing to cope well with the opposition’s feverish pressing. However, when we lost possession in midfield we were suddenly under pressure as the ‘codes rode the wave of noise and their front three drove straight at us. We had to ride our luck after only 1 minute when Murphy struck a Willock cross from the inside right position inside our box. Murphy’s shot eluded Ramsdale’s fingertips but struck his right-hand post rebounding centrally to be cleared by Ben White. Only a minute later White had to slide in to clear for a corner Isak’s shot from inside our box on the left after Xhaka had been dispossessed midway inside our half. In the recent past, the Arsenal defence might have been rocking after such a frantic start. However, we didn’t panic. Ramsdale began his battle against the clock, diverting the Geordie offensive passion into frustrated anger by taking his time over every kick and we reverted to the confident pass and move that we had briefly displayed at the outset. In response the ‘codes began their agenda of grabbing, shirt-pulling, elbowing, barging and leaving the foot in at every opportunity and Kavanagh displayed a complete lack of interest in discouraging that behaviour by the use of his whistle or yellow card.

The first turning point of the match came on seven minutes. After a well worked Newcastle corner on our left, the ball was passed centrally to the unmarked Guimaraes whose firm shot into the crowded box was blocked by Kiwior. Unhesitatingly, the referee pointed to the spot. Replays showed that the ball had struck Kiwior’s thigh before looping past his right arm which he had pulled inwards and behind his back. I don’t think the ball touched his arm at all. It took a full 3 minutes for VAR’s analysis and Kavanagh’s review of the monitor before the decision was reversed. That first ten minutes had been frantic and I don’t like to think what might have transpired had that penalty stood and been scored but that episode lifted us as much as it deflated them. Moreover, it is another clear vindication of VAR despite the many problems hitherto associated with its implementation in England.

The game then became a heavyweight slugging match with multiple individual duels in which every one of our players stood firm and refused to be intimidated. We passed the ball slickly and our high press quelled Newcastle’s forward charge. After Xhaka had dispossessed Guimaraes midway inside his own half and passed the ball to Jesús, the clearly irritated Newcastle player stopped our Saviour some 35 yards from goal with a rugby tackle for which even Neville thought he should have been booked. The second turning point came in the 13th minute, after Ødegaard took the free kick. The ball found its way to Saka on our right flank who passed it inside via Jorginho to Ødegaard in space 30 yards out. Our captain struck it low and hard into the bottom right hand corner of the opposition goal.

Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal, 13 minutes

The locals were silenced. “We’ve got super Mik Arteta” rang out from the travelling support in the Gods. The duels continued.  Our players buzzed around opposition players in possession and challenged for every loose ball with a vigour reminiscent of some of our finest teams. When we regained possession, we calmly played around the ‘codes moving the ball swiftly and accurately. In the 20th minute, at the end of an extended period of such possession with 14 passes involving nearly every Arsenal player, Ødegaard played a beautiful pass through the centre of the Newcastle defence for the onrushing Martinelli to go one on one with Pope. Gabigol really should have buried it but his low shot was blocked by the keeper’s right foot and the ball rebounded to our right flank. Ødegaard sprinted over to claim it, dribbled into the box and his curling shot was tipped round the far post by Pope. The game was clearly turning.  Our players also started deploying the dark arts by delaying restarts and clearly getting under the skin of the opposition. Hand of Nemesis, Eddie!

In the 23rd minute another spell of elegant possession ended with a sweet through ball from Xhaka to Saka running through the centre of the Newcastle back four. Sadly, this one on one ended with another Pope save with Saka’s shot rebounding from the keeper’s shoulder. Newcastle responded with a nice effort from Willock running into the right side of our box that was well saved by Ramsdale. Seconds later, Ramsdale had to dive at the feet of Wilson to push a squared ball away from the onrushing forward who had simply run past Kiwior. However, the Geordie crowd were still eclipsed by the travelling Gooners, their main contribution being howls of outrage whenever our players took their time over restarts. Our players continued to take heavy physical challenges while in return harrying the opposition all over the pitch with Ødegaard and Jorginho in particular, always making themselves available for a pass. The lack of referee intervention was once again underlined when a rapid breakout by Jesús up the right flank was terminated by a foul challenge from behind by Burn without so much as a quiet word. 

On 40 minutes Ødegaard played the ball left to Martinelli inside the Newcastle box but the Brazilian’s shot screwed across the face of the goal beyond the reach of the incoming Saka. Yet the Geordie nasty streak was still there and during another Arsenal attack Guimaraes deliberately ran his studs down Saka’s Achilles off the ball, behind the feckless referee’s back (no card of course). This produced the first ruck with an inexplicably belligerent Joelinton having to be placated by his countrymen Jesús and Gabriel.

In the 5 added minutes at the end of the first half, Ramsdale caught a Schär header that was straight at him and Xhaka took the steam out of any Newcastle revival by collapsing at the edge of the box. When we were given a throw in to restart, the Newcastle players and fans vortexed into high dudgeon because Zinchenko ignored the ball that had rolled ten yards behind him and requested the ball from a ball-girl in front of him who was clearly in some drug-addled stupor. Two subthemes were verbals between Xhaka and Wilson and between Jesús and Trippier. The latter exchange almost provoked a physical response from Trippier. We were deploying the finest shithousery out there.  As the clock ticked round to the 52nd minute, Saka dispossessed some big stripey lump on the left of their box, passed the ball to Martinelli who darted towards the byeline and cut it inside to Ødegaard whose sweet first touch left Byrne prostrate and as he bore down on goal I would have bet the farm that we were going to go 2-0 up but once again Pope blocked a one on one as he got a foot to Ødegaard’s right foot shot.

Half Time: Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal

We thoroughly deserved the half time lead and really should have been two or three up. Despite their early flurry and strike on the woodwork we had made by far the better chances and been a constant threat after the ‘penalty’ episode. However, manfully though our players had stood up to the physical assaults and brilliantly though we had silenced the initially rabid crowd, with our recent history, one couldn’t help thinking about the two 2-0 leads we had spurned and a previous incarnation that had lost a 4-0 lead on this very ground. Could we see this through?

The second half began as the first half ended with Arsenal passing the ball through the Newcastle press and then through their defensive lines and getting kicked for their efforts. The third turning point came in the 48th minute when Zinchenko slipped in the box allowing Murphy to chip a ball to the onrushing Isak whose unchallenged header struck Ramsdale’s left hand post with the keeper beaten. Seconds later, a Trippier freekick from the right found the head of Schär, unmarked on the edge of the 6-yard box. Ramsdale pulled off an excellent save, diving to his right to push the downward header away. 

The second half appeared to be starting with another spell of Newcastle pressure but we had other ideas. Jesús found Martinelli unmarked inside the opposition box and Gabi’s high curling shot appeared to be heading for the far top corner but clipped the bar and bounced over. We returned to our harrying when out of possession, shithousery on restarts and elegant pass and move when the opportunity arose. Our work rate was extraordinary and the travelling Gooners’ chants of “Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal” rang around St James’. On 55 minutes Jesús got his first chance of a shot but his effort was blocked for a corner. 

As “Super Mik Arteta” rang out, an unchallenged driving run through midfield and a lovely through ball from Burn found Isak running into our box on the left. He slipped the ball inside to Willock who had a clear shot on goal. Just as Willock prepared to hit the ball, Xhaka slid in to take the ball away from him and take the force of Willock’s kick full on his glutei in as Keown-esque a block as you’ll ever see. What a superb ‘match-winning’ intervention and it epitomised the team’s spirit and work rate. On 60 minutes, Guimaraes got away with another late challenge on Jorginho without any sanction. Meanwhile Tierney replaced Zinchenko whose loss of focus after 60 minutes has become evident in recent games. A feeble effort by Guimaraes to reproduce Ødegaard’s goal was then easily hoovered up by Ramsdale. On 64 minutes Almiron replaced Murphy whose contribution had long since faded from memory.

Having failed to match us in football skills, Newcastle resorted to grievous bodily harm. In short order Joelinton elbowed Xhaka in the head as we defended a wrongly-awarded Trippier free-kick from our right then Schär put a forearm smash into Jesús who collapsed to the turf with a cry heard round the world. Yellow card? Don’t be silly! Jesús recovered and was soon firing a low shot at Pope’s left-hand post from a tight angle that the keeper could only block for a corner.

On 71 minutes came the final turning point of the match. We had once again weathered the early Newcastle storm, dealt with their efforts and physical aggression and carved a few opportunities for ourselves but the game was still in the balance. Once again, we were scrapping for possession in our own half when Tierney intercepted a through ball into our box which had been aimed for Almiron. Tierney passed the ball forward to Jesús who wriggled past some big stripey blokes and laid it off to Martinelli running up the left. As Gabi drew near the opposition box, he could see only Saka trying to keep up with him on the far right. He slowed down, allowing Saka to get into the box and Ødegaard to approach the edge of the box then took on a big stripey lump, reached the bye line and fired a low hard cross across the face of the goal to where Ødegaard was arriving at the far post. It didn’t reach him. Schär kindly put it in for him.

Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal, 71 minutes

I expect that there were limbs in the Gods. No doubt, Countryman 100, our man on the spot, will confirm. There was certainly screaming and jumping about here!

In the 73rd minute Kavanagh finally located a yellow card which he brandished to Burn for his umpteenth late challenge on Saka. Once again, “We’ve got super Mik Arteta” and “You’ve only come to see the Arsenal” rang out from on high. In stark contrast to the game at the Grove, the ‘codes were in a hurry but we were harrying them at the edge of their box and all over the pitch and the game settled into a midfield battle of attrition. In the 78th minute, Willock was replaced by Saint-Maximin and Wilson by Gordon followed a minute later by the replacement of Martinelli by Trossard and Ødegaard by Partey. A couple of minutes later, in a last throw of the dice, Joelinton and Byrne were replaced by Anderson and Target. We continued to threaten with a good ball from Jorginho finding Jesús in the box but the forward’s first touch let him down. Meanwhile we were dealing effectively with everything Newcastle threw at us and Anderson resorted to diving into Xhaka’s back in a fruitless effort to win a penalty while Almiron struck Ramsdale in an attempt to get him to drop the ball. Ramsdale ensured that some time elapsed before he was ready to continue. Nelson and Nketia replaced Saka and Jesús in the 86th minute.

As the clock wound round towards the 90, we were under sustained pressure for the first time since the early minutes of the half but our lines stayed strong and a speculative Schär shot from the edge of our box soared over Ramsdale’s bar and a punt from Guimaraes soared past his left post. In the first of 6 added minutes, Ramsdale turned a Saint-Maximin shot from the edge of our box past his left post then clutched a lofted cross/shot towards his right post from Almiron. The travelling support were in good voice and “We love you Arsenal” sustained our sterling defensive efforts as we saw the game out. Schär and Trippier manhandled Nketiah as he tried to keep the ball in the corner resulting in handbags between Schär and Nketiah, both of whom got a yellow for their troubles. The game ended with a nasty challenge on Xhaka by Anderson who was lucky that the whistle prevented suitable retribution.

Full Time: Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal

This was a ‘good old Arsenal’ performance. In a ground where we were bullied a year ago and came up short we stood up to both the legal and illegal challenges, played some lovely football and defended manfully. They were all heroes as were the travelling support. A fully deserved victory with a well-deserved clean sheet. Jorginho fully earned his Man of the Match award but every man did his bit with 8/10 or 9/10 performances and we are still in this race.

I’ll add a postscript from Jorginho’s post-match interview:

“We know this league. We know that we can’t win every game playing beautiful football the way we want and I’m really pleased to see that our team can play this kind of game and understand that sometimes it’s not possible to go through just with passes and sometimes you need to fight and I’m very proud of the team, the way they fought until the end.”

These boys are growing up.



This Newcastle vs Arsenal report from BathGooner was first posted on the brilliant Goonerholics Forever site dedicated to a friend of so many at the Gooner Fanzine, the late Dave Faber. 

Goonerholics Forever is dedicated to much-missed and much-loved Dave and we republish BathGooner's report with their permission. For more on their excellent site click here 

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