Keeping pace...

Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United

Dennis Bergkamp (19)

This was, in short, a top-class performance from the Arsenal -- if you took away the brilliance of Shay Given and the fact that our finishing still is something short of lethal, then you could easily say that this showing had some of the characteristics of the Mega Arsenal we're used to seeing these days. Details to follow, but the lineups first (going from left to right, as always):

The Gunners: Manuel Almunia -- Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisan-Etane -- Jose Antonio Reyes (Francesc Fabregas Soler 89), Patrick Vieira, Mathieu Flamini, Robert Pires -- Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp

Subs not used: Jens Lehmann (GK), Pascal Cygan, Emmanuel Eboue, Robin van Persie

The Magpies: Shay Given -- Olivier Bernard, Jean-Alain Boumsong (Andy O'Brien 67), Titus Bramble, Steven Taylor (Aaron Hughes 45) -- Laurent Robert (Charles N'Zogbia 56), Jermaine Jenas, Kieron Dyer, Lee Bowyer, Shola Ameobi -- Alan Shearer

Subs not used: Stephen Harper (GK), Patrick Kluivert

Defensively, the return of Lauren after his injury has done nothing but highlight his importance to the backline. He's not flashy, and he's not the type of guy whose actions you'll remember 10 minutes after the game. But, he rarely puts a foot wrong, and he's more than capable in every respect -- he can pass, he can get stuck in, all of it. Especially considering that most of our attacks go up the left anyway (and thus, most counterattacks will focus on the space abandoned by Reyes and Cole), he is vital to our continued success, and it's great to see him get the contract he deserves. In other news, Flamini was preferred to Fabregas in central midfield, and that ended up working well for Le Boss. Flamini will never be the guy who creates offense out of nothing, but he doesn't screw up the offensive flow either. That said, we know why he's there -- to be a terrier in the center of the park, chasing down loose balls and making life hell for opposing midfielders. He had a blinder, I thought. For the other mob, they were playing the 4-5-1 into 4-3-3 hybrid that has worked so well for the teams that have beaten us this year. However, the teams that have beaten us did so because they not only stifled our creative play, they also took the chances that came their way. Newcastle didn't really do either, so they can't really complain about this result (despite the razor-thin margin in the end).

Also of note is that Arsenal went for the jugular seconds after the kickoff, which is a welcome change. Recently, it's either taken far too long for the engine to get going, or worse yet, they've gone entire matches (Bolton comes to mind), without the engine ever getting going. Reyes (who also played well), found Pires (who was on the right wing due to the absence of Fredrik Ljungberg). Pires did well to get the ball to Flamini inside the six-yard box, and the young Frenchman really should have scored. But, he scuffed the shot. Even despite that, Given had to do pretty well to get a leg on it, and then cover up the rebound -- that wasn't as easy a save as most viewers thought it was. It should have been 1-0, but the portents were excellent...Arsenal played Newcastle off the park for the most part, with just the final ball or that last touch conspiring to end the threat of the half-chances they were creating.

However, they finally got it right in the 19th minute. Flamini got the ball at the edge of the penalty area, and found Bergkamp with a nice slide-rule pass. To me, the key here is that Reyes and Pires and the like were trying just that little bit too hard on their final ball to Henry or Bergkamp, and they ended up putting too heavy a touch on it. Flamini calmly did just enough to keep the play going, and Bergkamp made no mistake, rolling it past the charging Given and into the back of the net. Now, I did say in the last match report that Bergkamp is essentially done, and I stand by that. I would amend that slightly to say that he can still finish if someone gets him the ball in a dangerous area. But, gone are the days when Dennis would create something out of nothing, would score wonder goals from outside the area, would come up with something amazing to create a goal for someone else. He's still competent in his role as withdrawn striker, and he's still one of my favorite players to ever wear the shirt. He's just not the guy to save us in a crisis, that's all. We may do well to buy a striker in the offseason while we wait for Arturo Lupoli to develop, and just in case Jeremie Aliadiere continues his walking-wounded routine.

That was it for the scoring, but that sure wasn't it for the chances. Henry had a great chance just seconds after the goal, as he took Reyes' pass on the outside of the area and sent a wicked half-volley hurtling towards the low corner. Given had other ideas though, and did fantastically well to parry it to safety. As an aside, I wonder if Newcastle fans realize how lucky they are to have this guy. Anyway, while most of the traffic was one way, the Geordies did occasionally fashion a half-chance. But, whenever they did, Sol or Lauren or Kolo were more than up to the task. Some of the clearances didn't look as assured as they might have, but the point is that when something absolutely had to be dealt with, it was dealt with. End of story. Newcastle could have probably used the services of Craig Bellamy out on the wing, though. Officially, he was listed as out due to a hamstring injury. The more likely scenario is that he's either deeply imbedded in Graeme Souness' doghouse, or he's on the way out. He hates playing on the wing, he bitches when he doesn't play, and he generally makes a public nuisance of himself at every opportunity. In that respect, you can't blame Souness for benching him, if that is indeed what happened. Unfortunately for our opponents though, Laurent Robert once again had a stinker of biblical proportions. For a guy of his skill, it's unconscionable that he wastes it with a string of half-assed performances like this one. The way I see it, it's a slap in the face to those of us who have no natural athletic ability, but give it everything...even if it's just a company indoor team or a beer-league softball team. I would kill for 1/10th of Robert's talent...he could be one of the better wingers on the planet, but instead, his manager has to pull him in early in the second half (I would have done it at halftime) because he just couldn't be bothered in a match that was just as important for them as it was for us.

I try to refrain from using this word outside of the Arseblog forums, but Laurent Robert is a cunt, and one who should be plying his trade in the Azerbaijani 14th Division at that.

Anyway, there's no need for a dissertation this time, either. Arsenal created a ton of chances, but either just missed or were victimized by Shay Given. Newcastle occasionally counterpunched, but couldn't quite unlock the Arsenal defense. Manuel Almunia wasn't really tested, but he did much better with set pieces and crosses than in the past...I thought he was perfectly fine for the little he had to do. The important thing is that it looks like the old panache is coming back, the extended hangover from the Mike Riley is an Incompetent Fuckface match against Manshit United apparently drawing to a close. I think we can all agree that the best case scenario is that the goals start to come against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup, and then continue to rain down as we play those Red Devil pricks again in the league. 6-0 or so would do me just fine.

As long as Time Warner doesn't sink into the depths of incompetence once again, there should be match reports for both. See you then.


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