Arsenal again had their struggles in front of goal, but eventually overcame the resistance of 10-man Newcastle United to win 1-0 at St James’ Park. Playing against depleted opposition from the 16th minute after Aleksandar Mitrovic continued his ill-disciplined start to life in the Premier League, Arsenal posed precious little threat to the hosts’ defenses until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s strike was deflected in by Fabricio Coloccini early in the second half.
It was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, having taken just four points from their opening three games. But fresh from just two goals in those trio of outings and after a goalless draw at home to Liverpool on Monday, it was another performance that highlighted Arsenal’s difficulty in breaking down well-organized opposition. Indeed, it was all-too apparent that Arsenal found it much tougher against the 10 men of Newcastle than when they were at full strength. Against 11, Arsenal were dangerous early on and should have had a penalty when Florian Thauvin trod on the heel of Hector Bellerin in the Newcaslte box.
Arsene Wenger had been open about the fact that his side, without a goal at the Emirates Stadium this season, have found it tougher going in front of their own fans. And the early dismissal of Mitrovic for an ugly, late boot into the shin of Francis Coquelin effectively made this a home fixture against a Newcastle team sitting back and compacting the space effectively. Wenger had selected Theo Walcott up front in place of Olivier Giroud for the first time this season, but the England international’s lightning pace was rendered redundant against Newcastle’s deep defensive line. When Walcott was presented with chances his lack of a clinical touch in front of goal was all-too evident.
After four games, it is own goals that leads the scoring charts for Arsenal. And, with just three days to go until the close of the transfer window, the pressure will only have increased on Wenger to bring in a striker of undoubted title-winning class.
Newcastle have their own problems having taken just two points from their opening four fixtures under Steve McClaren. But following their goalless draw at Old Trafford a week ago, there was again encouraging evidence of a far more resilient and organized outfit than the shambles that was so often on show last season.
There has also been enough to suggest that their summer signings can make a positive impact. Mitrovic is included among those, but McClaren must quickly work out how to quell the striker’s hot-tempered impetuous streak that threatens to land his team in trouble every time he steps on the field. Booked within minutes of coming on in his first two Premier League appearances, the former Anderlecht man has now been sent off early on in his fourth. And, while the home fans booed referee Andre Marriner relentlessly, neither they nor Mitrovic could have any complaints following his high challenge on Coquelin.
It had been an ill-disciplined start to the encounter from the home side, with a succession of late tackles leaving them with three yellow cards to go with Mitrovic’s red after less than 30 minutes. But after they should have conceded a penalty and perhaps a goal when Walcott could only shoot straight at Tim Krul early on, they diligently limited Arsenal’s attacking threat.
The only time Arsenal posed a danger again before the end of the first half was when Alexis Sanchez’s shot was parried straight out by Krul and Walcott followed up but shinned the ball horribly over the crossbar. Arsenal, missing the injured Mesut Ozil, were dominating possession and passing cleanly, but, blocked off by a Newcastle team defending narrowly, were doing so without any real incision.
It took until seven minutes into the second half for the breakthrough to arrive. And it came courtesy of a player who has been unlucky to find himself out of the team in recent weeks. After Aaron Ramsey’s effort was blocked, Oxlade Chamberlain drove a dangerous effort across the face of goal and a helpful touch off the boot of Coloccini took it into the net off the far post.
Still down a man and having depleted their energy reserves chasing the ball for so long, Newcastle had nothing left to go in search of an unlikely equalizer. Arsenal, though, couldn’t add to their margin of victory. And Giroud’s tame chip straight at Krul deep in injury time will have only furthered the belief that Arsenal’s title drought will continue unless an upgrade to that area of their team is soon forthcoming.