Abou Diaby’s red-card sparks Arsenal implosion

Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal ~ fuuuuuucckkk

It’s difficult to analyse a match – or even summon the energy for – as remarkable as this, as crazy as this, as one-off as this and one that hinged massively on refereeing decisions. But lest we will. It was the ultimate game of two halves; the first, Arsenal were at their rampaging best in attack, the second saw Newcastle produce the most unlikeliest comebacks via a red card to Abou Diaby and two penalties, the second of which is being looked into by Interpol . In the end, Arsenal was hanging for it’s dear life and rather ironically, spared a defeat by the incompetence of the officials as a perfectly good Newcastle goal was ruled offside. (Robin van Persie may have also been aggrieved by an offside decision likewise at the end of the game although his was less contentious).

First-half

Arsenal penetrate Newcastle’s high line

Divide as he may, Arsenal fans, Andrei Arshavin started and created both goals that saw Arsenal make an incredible start. He was there to win a tackle in the centre circle for the first goal before making a brilliant deft pass to free Theo Walcott. The second was more simplistic as his free-kick accurately found the head of Johan Djourou to score. The Gunners speed and movement in the first 30 minutes was devastating and it endlessly dragged Newcastle’s defenders out of position.

In the encounter at the Emirates earlier this season, Newcastle defended deep and cut out expertly, the ball from wide areas. This time they naturally looked to play higher at home but they could find no solutions to Arsenal’s incision as Theo Walcott’s movement, taking advantage of the space created by Robin van Persie, punished their adventurism. Their 4-4-2 was too open and that made tracking Arsenal’s runners more difficult. Van Persie’s movement also helped undo their marking strategy as his roaming style as a “false nine” made Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson unsure of whether to hold their position or stick tight to the striker and follow him. As a result they were often left marking space and because defenders are uncomfortable doing that, were forced to push up, conceding the space behind.

Cesc Fabregas drops deeper to evade markers

In the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle earlier this season, Cheik Tiote’s man-marking of Cesc Fabregas (allayed by his hamstring injury) denied Arsenal the frequent services of their most influential player. Everton did the same last week as they took turns to mark Fabregas but it was a switch of him to a deeper position which contributed to their 2-1 defeat. Fabregas found space for the only time in the second-half to chip the ball unchallenged to Arshavin to slot home. At St. James’ Park, the Spaniard would have been aware that Alan Pardew might try to do the same, so instead he looked to pick the ball up from deeper positions. As a result, he was free to start moves and would later break forward to join the attack, nearly scoring with a good burst that was parried wide by Steven Harper.

Because Newcastle played with a 4-4-2 in straight lines, it was difficult for one of the two central midfielders to follow Fabregas as that would leave the other midfielder isolated in a midfield they were already outnumbered. With Fabregas picking the ball up from a quarterback position, that freed Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby to push forward and the success of the tactic was evident when both players were involved at the edge of the Newcastle goal to create the third.

Second-half

Abou Diaby goes red after Joey Barton’s tackle

No reaction that involves the shoving of opponents should be excused, (the tackler in this case should be an expert at this) but it is understandable given the injuries suffered by Abou Diaby and the nature of the tackle by Joey Barton. The Newcastle midfielder is a talented player – Wenger should know as he recommended him to Monaco once – however the tackle was a potential leg-breaker and any attempts to claim it as an honest tackle from Pardew misses the point. Danny Murphy was correct and managers should have a duty of care of what their players do on the pitch – Bert van Marwijk’s non-selection of Nigel de Jong in his first match after the World Cup indicates so.

“We forced the sending off. I’ve seen it and it was a sending off,” said Pardew. “Joey’s [Barton] tackle was aggressive, but that’s what you need in football, you need to show that it means something to you. Then we got the second goal and I felt that something was going on here.”

Ultimately, Pardew’s words at half-time to get tackles in and stop Arsenal from having time on the ball worked and especially so as they had a man-advantage. The other enforced loss of an Arsenal player, Johan Djourou was almost as costly but attempts to criticise his replacement, Sebastian Squillaci, is unfair. The French centre-back was directly uninvolved with the goals but after an outstanding display by Djourou and Koscielny in the first period, the roughness of the partnership between him and Koscielny was exposed. Koscielny doesn’t particularly like defending deep and especially with a style such as his which is splayed with risk, two haven’t ever looked at home as a pair. Phil Dowd’s (or rather him and the official’s) decision to award the second penalty was laughable and his non-decision to give a card at least to Kevin Nolan for pushing Szczesny was rightfully aggrieved by Jack Wilshere who complained at the lack of consistency. Indeed, Diaby was incited by a far worse action by Barton while Nolan should have shown more have shown a cooler head in his attempt to save a few seconds.

“The whole back-four unit got changed because of the situation but we were used to playing with each other and we should still have been comfortable playing alongside each other.” Wojciech Szczesny.

End note

The result was not as tragic as it may have been as Arsenal crawled a point closer to Manchester United as the league leaders succumbed to their first defeat of the season to Wolverhampton Wanderers. But it could be damaging as Wenger warns: “Mathematically two points, psychologically the damage is bigger tonight because everyone is very disappointed in the dressing room. Only the future will tell.”

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