Wednesday 18 October 2017

Newcastle rise from the dead

Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4

At half-time Newcastle were on the canvas, bleeding, broken, barely able to hear the referee's count. Some fans could not bear to watch their insipid team get battered even further, and crept out of the ground. Arsenal were pitilessly dancing around their opponents, landing blow after blow. Those fans still there roared their disapproval of Mike Ashley, some chanting for Chris Hughton.

Having lost in the FA Cup to Stevenage and been so tame in defeat to Fulham last week, Newcastle were already on the slide, but with the sale of Andy Carroll the fear was free-fall. It was not just that their local hero and best player had been sold, it was that nothing had been done to replace him. Alan Pardew went into the dressing room at half-time with his credibility at stake and the crowd turning on him. Then something remarkable happened.

Arsenal had flown out of the blocks. Theo Walcott went sprinting after Andrey Arshavin's pass and, with just 43 seconds on the clock, side-footed the ball past Steve Harper. Two minutes later and it was two. Danny Simpson fouled Cesc Fabregas on the Arsenal left and Arshavin hit an in-swinging free kick to the near post where Johan Djourou managed to steer his header just under the bar.

In the 10th minute, Arsenal pushed home their dominance. Abou Diaby passed the ball crisply out to Walcott on the right, who jinked and sprinted to the byline, pulling the ball back low for Robin van Persie to convert. The Dutchman, in excellent form, scored a simple second on 26 minutes.

At the break you were left wondering how many Arsenal would score, so incoherent was Newcastle's defending.

What happened next was astonishing. The comeback had its seed in Arsenal folly. Sebastien Squillaci passed the ball too far in front of Diaby, inviting a challenge from Joey Barton. The Newcastle midfielder went in hard. He did, crucially, win the ball.

Diaby reacted stupidly, grabbing Barton by the neck and hurling him to the ground. Phil Dowd had a simple decision to send him off. Wenger conceded that the sending-off was "unnecessary" but refused to criticise his player. Privately he must have been furious.

From that point Arsenal's afternoon fell apart. Walcott had just gone close to getting Arsenal a fifth when Dowd awarded the first penalty. Barton hit a near-perfect spot kick into the bottom left-hand corner.

Tomas Rosicky, on for Arshavin, gave the ball away to Barton on the edge of the box. He found Best, who in turn found the net. Best was flagged offside, but replays showed Rosicky was playing him on.

With 15 minutes to go, Jose Enrique sent a deep cross to the far post where Best climbed above Gael Clichy but could not get his header away. The ball dropped in front of him, though, and he smashed it home. It was 4-2 and game on.

With seven minutes left, Arsenal conceded their second penalty. It looked very soft indeed, with Mike Williamson having been pushed in the back by Rosicky. Barton impishly chipped his penalty straight down the middle.

With three minutes left, Newcastle scored the equaliser. And how. Barton bought a soft free-kick off Rosicky and while Barton's free-kick was cleared, it fell to Cheik Tiote. With exquisite technique, Tiote met the ball with a left-foot volley that arced low into the net.

At half-time Arsenal had looked like champions while Newcastle were heading for the Championship. With one inspired 45 minutes of football all that changed.

Telegraph

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