Arsenal survived a physical assault at the hands of Newcastle in order to claim all three points against ten men on Saturday lunchtime.
With a number of surprises in the squad, not least the absence of Mesut Ozil (‘minor’ knee injury), and the Ox and Theo starting their first ever Premier League game together, the side was set up with tons of pace in the attacking third.
In what was a frantic opening few minutes, referee Andre Marriner produced a yellow for Sissoko after only two minutes, something referees are often reluctant to do early on thus allowing sides to carry on kicking Arsenal out of the game. Sissoko might consider himself fortunate for only picking up a yellow for what was a clear stamp on Nacho Monreal who was then booed by the Newcastle fans when he got the ball after.
It made no difference to how Newcastle approached the game.
It took 13 minutes, however, for the ref to get the first massive call of the weekend wrong, Hector Bellerin clearly fouled in the box although perhaps his view was blocked off slightly and he needed the help of his linesman. It was a stonewall penalty with no room for interpretation. But the next call he got right just three minutes later, a red card for Mitrovic for raking his studs down Francis Coquelin’s shin.
Newcastle were losing the plot and Arsenal needed to capitalise as the home fans only served to wind their players up further and as another bad tackle went in on Coquelin that could have resulted in a red, but only got a yellow, the Magpies showed no sign of wanting to finish the game with ten men.
The clearest chance of the half fell to Theo who, just a few yards out with Tim Krul on the ground, somehow contrived to miss an open goal and Arsenal were still struggling to find the breakthrough, not really testing the Newcastle keeper despite dominating possession.
It was a familiar story.
It took just three minutes of the restart for yet another Newcastle player (the fifth) to find himself in the book, Anita carded for his third foul which was immediately followed by Santi Cazorla going into the book for his first. Wijnaldum was then booked for trying to get Cazorla booked.
Finally the breakthrough came, the Ox seeing his shot take a slight deflection from the corner of the box. The deadlock was broken and the relief was palpable.
A few more chances fell Arsenal’s way while Newcastle also managed to rally somewhat in the last portion of the match, but generally it was all very underwhelming from both sides.
In the end, it was a welcome three points but there is much work to be done if Arsenal have any intentions of being genuine challengers this season.
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