Wenger's men confound his doubters
Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2
So Arsenal continue to keep Manuel Pellegrini and perhaps even Jose Mourinho sweating while Newcastle sleepwalk their way towards the end of a deeply unsatisfactory season? Well, not entirely - sometimes scorelines fail to tell quite the whole story.
Despite an amalgam of injuries and suspensions to key personnel leaving John Carver's side with a distinctly ersatz look, Newcastle were not quite so makeshift in practice. Indeed, Arsene Wenger was probably extremely relieved to escape with three points on a day when Olivier Giroud's two first half goals, following set pieces, kept Arsenal four points behind the leaders, Chelsea, and only one in arrears of second placed Manchester City.
"The last 40 minutes were difficult," Wenger acknowledged. "Newcastle played very well in the second half. Tired after their midweek Champions League exertions against Monaco, his team faded as the afternoon wore on but still did just enough to record a sixth straight Premier League victory and remind everyone they will not settle for staying third. "We are in the fight," he said. "We want to do as well as we can."
With Daryl Janmaat outstanding in an unfamilar central defensive role, Newcastle succeeded in surprising some of their own supporters. "There wasn't much in it until we conceded the first goal," said Carver. "It's always disappointing to lose to two set piece goals but we showed we're not on our holidays yet. And we also showed that, even when you're down to the bare bones, if you prepare and set up properly, you give yourselves a chance."
All pace, possession and intelligent movement, Newcastle began deceptively brightly. Then Jack Colback, Carver's left back for the day, played it short to Vurnon Anita. The midfielder should have been able to move the ball forward but, seemingly unsure what to do, he passed, unwisely, back to Colback who was under pressure from Giroud.
Colback was left with little option but to impede the Arsemal striker and concede a free kick. Up stepped Santi Cazorla and in curved the set piece, allowing Danny Welbeck to flick on before Giroud directed the ball over the line.
It was not long before Wenger's centre forward scored again. This time Cazorla whipped in a corner and Giroud got across his marker before squeezing a header into the far bottom corner, his 17th goal in 26 appearances this season.
Happily for Carver, Moussa Sissoko changed the narrative right at the start of the second half. Cued up by a wonderful one-two involving Ayoze Perez and Remy Cabella, the midfielder's low, first time, right foot shot whizzed past Opsina as Arsenal suddenly found themselves firmly on the backfoot.
Wenger's players looked winded in the face of Sissoko's all round dynamism and Newcastle's collective powers of counter-attacking acceleration. They might have conceded an equaliser had Perez not dispatched a curling 25 yard shot fractionally wide and again when the same striker miscued an inviting shooting chance. No matter: the momentum was with those wearing black and white and a home equaliser would have been thoroughly deserved. Instead Carver and company were left all out of luck as Wenger kept on confounding those doubters.
Sunday Indo Sport