Sunday 25 June 2017

Gervinho sees red as Arsenal get campaign off to a stutter

Gervinho managed to get sent off on his Arsenal league debut as Arsene Wenger's side made an unconvincing start to life without Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri on Tyneside.

Perhaps not quite as unconvincing as their memorable collapse in the corresponding fixture last season, when they managed to throw away a 4-0 interval lead and indicate to all concerned that they were unlikely to win the title, but unsatisfactory in the sense that they began a new campaign looking just like the side that finished the last one. A side looking tired and short of ideas.

Newcastle can be even happier with this point than the one they gained in such unpromising circumstances in January. They never looked like winning the game but they were never taken apart either.

They too were solid but uninspired, although at least for Newcastle that counts as improvement. There were chants of "Spend some of your money" from the end containing the Arsenal fans as full time approached, although it was impossible to tell whether the home supporters joined in.

That seemed about as exciting as the day was going to get until a fracas in the Newcastle penalty area 14 minutes from the end. Gervinho was lying on the floor attempting to make a meal of a hefty, but fair, challenge by Cheick Tiote when Joey Barton came across to tell him to get on with the game.

Gervinho took offence, a scuffle turned into a melee, and amid all the handbags the Ivorian connected with a girly slap to Barton's temple.

Barton probably did not need to fall down as if poleaxed, although he did, and the referee Peter Walton probably did not have to produce a red card, although he did.

So in almost identical circumstances, with Barton involved both times, Arsenal went down to 10 men for a second successive season in this fixture. The only difference this time was that Newcastle were not inspired to score four goals.

Arsenal began with the slick, quick passing game that got them off to such a good start here last season, without seeing anything like the same results.

They lacked penetration and precision, although Gervinho did manage to impress in the opening exchanges. He found space in the Newcastle penalty area after only a couple of minutes, after Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie had made the initial inroads, but wanted too much time to release a shot.

He then turned up on the left wing, dancing around Danny Simpson, and put in a cross that needed a sharper reaction from Van Persie.

Simpson made a timely intervention to prevent Arshavin's cross from the right reaching the Ivorian in the 13th minute before Newcastle launched their first attack of any note, Wojciech Szczesny diving to his left to make a near post stop after Joey Barton's raking pass had freed Simpson on the right.

Jonas Gutierrez flashed a spectacular volley well wide mid-way through the first half, but with Newcastle repeatedly giving the ball away and Arsenal missing the invention of Fabregas and Jack Wilshere the game was already settling down into an ordinary sort of midfield struggle.

As if to prove the point, when Arshavin stayed onside after half an hour and had a great chance to play Gervinho clear with only Tim Krul to beat, he managed to pass straight to Fabricio Coloccini.

Moments after that, Krul failed to deal with a corner and Simpson had to prevent the ball crossing the line.

Just as an uneventful first half was drawing to a close, Arshavin managed to create something out of nothing with a scooped pass over the defence that caught Newcsatle by surprise, but although Van Persie was ideally positioned to anticipate it and accept the ball, he again reacted too slowly.

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew brought on Gabriel Obertan for the ineffective Demba Ba at half time, stationing the former Manchester United winger in the middle in the hope his pace would trouble the Arsenal central defence.

Wenger responded by bringing on pace of his own after an hour, and Theo Walcott was into the game quicker than Obertan, bringing a save from Krul with one of his first touches when he possibly had the time to do better.

If there is any consolation for Arsenal they performed better with 10 men than they did last time, taking the game to their opponents and looking the more likely to score.

Newcastle's best attempt of the last few minutes was a rising drive from Barton that flew well over, much to Wenger's relief. A late winner from Barton would have been just too much to bear.

Observer

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