Our impressive run fizzled to an end in a fairly even, yet ultimately fruitless game against the league leaders. Pardew chose to match their five man midfield by bringing Tiote straight back in from suspension to replace Ben Arfa and although we didn’t pose any real threat for the bulk of the first half, we never looked in any real danger either.
It was very much a game played in the middle of the park in the opening period with the two holding midfielders of Tiote and Flamini being the outstanding players from either side and it took until nearly half time before either side produced an effort of note. Before that, the main action had been in the form of challenges with Williamson clattering Giroud in a 50/50 and the latter being booked for a lunge shortly afterwards.
Our best attacking option in the first half was Debuchy and he fired a shot wide when played in before he hit the bar with a header from a corner shortly before the half time whistle.
We started the second half slightly more brightly with a more obvious desire to press them higher up the field and when Pardew brought Ben Arfa on for a poor Gouffran on the hour, it looked like we were going to go for it, but that thought was cut short minutes later with a soft goal from the visitors. They won a free kick outside the box but a nondescript floated ball in to the box caught us flat footed with both keeper and defence rooted to the spot, allowing Giroud to ghost in and glance the ball home. Shite goal to concede and as much as we huffed and puffed we never really looked like quite doing enough to get back into the game.
Krul flapped again shortly after their goal but we had the better of the final quarter of the game although in fairness, with Shola introduced for Anita, the majority of our plan seemed to be Cabaye floating balls into the box which Mertesacker comfortably mopped up.
Haidara was introduced late on, leading to about four changes of position with Santon out on the right wing and Ben Arfa jinked inside to work himself a couple of openings but hit the side netting and fired wide whilst in the box, any half chances didn’t really drop for us as the Arsenal back line held firm.
In fairness, we never really deserved a goal but then neither did they and nils apiece would have been a fair result. As it was though, they did enough to win the game and although it would be a stretch to see them winning the league, it would seem more realistic that us breaking in to the top four.
As much as I love Ben Arfa, I don’t blame Pardew with the team he named – I think that he got it right and I think that he brought HBA on at the right time – we just didn’t quite have enough to beat them today and that’s the way it goes. 33 points by the end of 2013 looked wildly optimistic even two months ago so I think we can take this defeat and hopefully not sulk too much.
I’d contend that next Saturday’s game is as big as this one – surely, despite the crack from Irving and Charnley, this season must rate as one of our better chances of having a crack at the FA Cup? If nowt else, today has probably affirmed that we are a top eight side and really no more, so why not?
Happy New Year anyway, I hope 2014 is good to you all and cheers for reading this shite
Keep the Faith
Newcastle United: – Tim Krul 5, Matthieu Debuchy 8, Mike Williamson 7, Fabricio Coloccini 7, Davide Santon 7, Moussa Sissoko 6 (Massaido Haidara n/a), CHIECK TIOTE 8, Vurnon Anita 6 (Shola Ameobi 5), Yohan Cabaye 6, Yoan Gouffran 5 (Hatem Ben Arfa 7), Loic Remy 6
Ref – Probert – 6 – OK, no more than that
Our Fans – 6 – Full house but I would never class it as radgey – never twisty though
Their Fans – 7 – Got a lot of time for them as a club – good following but quiet for long stretches