Controversial, but we'll take it

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United

Thierry Henry (pen 81)
Robin van Persie (87)

The Gunners: Jens Lehmann - Ashley Cole, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisane-Etane - Robert Pires (Mathieu Flamini 84), Francesc Fabregas (Aleksandr Hleb 72), Gilberto Silva, Fredrik Ljungberg - Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp (Robin van Persie 72)

The Magpies: Shay Given - Steven Taylor, Celestine Babayaro, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Steve Carr - Belozoglu Emre, Scott Parker (Amdy Faye 82), Jermaine Jenas (sent off 32), Kieron Dyer (Charles N'Zogbia 69) - Lee Bowyer - Alan Shearer (James Milner 72)

Some corners of the press will take their lips off of Chelsea's ass long enough to cry foul about this game, and basically say everything short of "Steven Bennett 2, Newcastle United 0." Not only is that unfair to the referee (who didn't have a bad game, really), but it's also unfair to an Arsenal team that was good enough to win this match anyway. Sure, the boys in...err...whatever the fuck you call that color sputtered at times, and it does bear mentioning that Newcastle looks exponentially improved from the ragtag outfit of last season. Still, in terms of possession and quality of chances, Arsenal were always going to win this game.

Anyway, the match started out brightly, with both sides up for it. In particular, Arsenal were passing the ball very well...much better than the display shown against Chelsea a week ago. Within the first 15 minutes, Arsenal threatened twice...although the outcomes of both essentially summarized most of the match. On the first attempt, Bergkamp's beautifully-weighted ball over the top went for naught, as Henry found himself offside. To Newcastle's credit, they did a fantastic job of alternately shadowing him and then playing the trap perfectly to catch him offside. For most of the match, he wasn't close to being a factor. On the second, Bergkamp was again the architect, but Parker bravely flung his body in front of the ball to block. Still, Arsenal pressed the advantage, trying to find a chink in the barcoded armor somewhere. Carr gave the ball away to Bergkamp, but Given (my choice for Man of the Match) was there to easily scoop up the shot. Minutes later, Bergkamp's free kick was put in exactly the right spot, but Senderos just barely missed getting a head on it.

Newcastle survived all of that, though, and eventually started to get traffic going the other way. Shearer just dragged an angled shot wide, and then Cesc had to make a nice sliding block to clear the danger from Babayaro (after a tremendous run by Carr). That said, they didn't threaten anywhere near as much as the Arsenal, even though the incisiveness completely went out of the Gunners' passing by the 20th minute or so. There wasn't much going on, but I did notice that Emre is going to do just fine in the Premiership. He's quick, he's got good skill on the ball and he can thread passes through packed areas. Also, Parker did very well. I never have thought of him as much more than a nice offensive midfielder, but he was immense for them defensively today. If they do go manage to sign Michael Owen before the transfer window ends, then I think that they can start packing their bags for Europe next season.

So, we crawled along until the 32nd minute, where the match changed completely in one stupid rush of blood. Gilberto Silva had the ball, and Jenas came flying in with a horrific two-footed lunge. I certainly don't think there was an attempt to injure...but, "he was going for the ball" is not something that could or should protect the tackler from being penalized (and, if the dickhead announcers would try reading the fucking Laws of Association Football sometime, maybe they'd know that). Steven Bennett rightly showed Jenas the red...also, keep in mind that the referees have been specifically ordered to show red in these situations. To further the stupid quotient, the color commentator was whining that the red card hurt the quality of the match. Oh, for fuck's fucking sake. You can't selectively apply rules for aesthetic reasons alone, you fucking dipshit. No, 11-on-10 does not make for the most exciting football. But, if luck wasn't on Gilberto's side, legs broken in two places don't make for very exciting football either. Fucktard.

Anyway, if Newcastle were spirited and committed before Jenas' dismissal, they were three times as much so afterwards. While Arsenal had the lion's share of possession off the rest of the match, you'd be surprised how few clear-cut chances they had. And, when they did have them, Given was equal to the task -- take his reaction save on Toure's close-in shot, for example. That said, they had two chances to sneak in a goal right before halftime, and they blew both. A nice longball sent Bowyer in behind the defense, but he took all day to cross the ball. That allowed Toure to run the length of the field to get a block in. Several minutes later, the Toon won a dangerous freekick, which Emre promptly wasted. Back the other way, Lauren produced a magnificent cross, but Henry couldn't direct his header.

So, Newcastle made it to the interval scoreless, which only stiffened their resolve. Given cleared out a freekick from the sideline, then was forced to dive at the feet of the wide-open Ljungberg (after Gilberto and Bergkamp did well to unlock the Newcastle defense). For their part, they blew another good chance to take a shock lead when Boumsong was all alone on the far post...but, no one could get a cross over to him. Back the other way, Given came to the barcodes' rescue again when a long cross found Henry open in the penalty area. Several minutes later, Given again timed his approach perfectly to deny Ljungberg on a similar play.

After that wave of chances, the match slowed down yet again. Arsenal would probe along the edge of the Newcastle area, but the worker drones continued to valiantly protect the net. Finally, Wenger took off Fabregas (who was pushed around quite a bit in this game) and Bergkamp (who was running out of gas), and put on Hleb and van Persie. It brightened things up a bit, but I still would have bet money on a 0-0 result at that point.

But, van Persie signalled what was to come with a decent long-range effort, easily saved by Given. A minute later, though, a lucky break for us spelled the end of Newcastle's brave resistance. Ljungberg got himself into the penalty area, and N'Zogbia caught him with the slightest contact you can imagine. Now, anyone who reads me regularly knows that I think Bennett is one of the best 2 or 3 refs in England, and I agree with him the vast majority of the time. But, as he pointed to the spot, I have to say that I think he fucked this one up badly. Henry stepped up, and there could only have been one result. Given guessed correctly, and even got a hand on it. But, there was just too much pace on it, and it was placed perfectly in the corner. One-nil to the Arsenal, and with Newcastle's attack non-existent (though Milner did cause a problem or two after coming on for the ineffectual Shearer), that was pretty much that.

No smart club, though, ever takes a lead lightly until the final whistle. And, a few minutes later, Arsenal added the insurance goal that made us breathe a little bit easier. Newcastle had made their way down to our area, but Hleb broke up their attack. He passed to Ljungberg, who combined with Lauren to get up the field with lightning speed. Freddie cut it back to van Persie, who had the tiniest of spaces to aim for in between the near post and Given's body. Somehow, his shot found the way through, and the match was well and truly sealed.

Credit again to Newcastle though...their fans should have a good season to look forward to if they can keep this up. For our part, it wasn't the best game we'll play all season, but this is what champions do...win matches like this. At times, the old Arsenal made an appearance, using scalpel-like passes to cut open a resolute, spirited defense. The question, of course, is if we can ever do it for 90 minutes at a time. The defense wasn't tested often, but they did well every time that they were. Lehmann had barely anything to do, which is a testament to how well the defense played (especially Toure, who had a storming match in central defense).

Next week is the big one...away at Stamford Bridge. With our nearest and dearest friends from the West End barely scraping a 1-0 win over just-promoted Wigan Athletic, I envision us having a very good chance at 3 points, let alone 1. Can't wait...see you then!


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