Arsenal 1 Newcastle Utd 1: Ghost of Highbury haunts Henry show
Gunners hanker after more familiar surroundings as keeper Given returns in defiant form
Sunday 19 November 2006
Ten games in and Arsenal's fine new stadium still does not feel like home. Yet again they fell behind yesterday and could manage nothing more than an equaliser by Thierry Henry, who had initially been rested after playing a full 90 minutes for France in midweek. So Newcastle United, without a win since mid-September, became the fifth visiting side out of 10 to escape with a draw, a revitalised Kieron Dyer having stolen their first League goal for almost eight hours.
Takeover talk on Tyneside involving the Belgravia group has suggested that Alan Curbishley would be in line to become the manager in place of Glenn Roeder, who will nevertheless have slept more easily after a performance featuring no inspiration but much perspiration. More significant, however, was Henry's absence, the lanky Emmanuel Adebayor failing to take advantage of a defence with Titus Bramble at its heart. Julio Baptista, starting a Premiership game for the first time, was equally ineffective, and until half-time Arsenal relied almost exclusively on their lively wide players, Alexander Hleb and Robin van Persie, with occasional support from Cesc Fabregas. Then Van Persie was injured and Henry entered the fray, to dramatic effect.
"He didn't start because he was tired from the France game," Arsène Wenger said. "You can't play Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday and Tuesday." As for the costly concession of the first goal once again, enabling the opposition to sit even deeper in defence of it, Wenger admitted: "We have to learn to be much more rigorous. You can't give a goal away like we do every time."
Jens Lehmann deputised as captain and had done little more than kick away a couple of back-passes before, extraordinarily, he was collecting the ball from the back of his net. From Nolberto Solano's long forward pass, Gaël Clichy found himself outjumped by the more physical Obafemi Martins and the right-back Emmanuel Eboué was a little flat-footed as Dyer turned inside him and placed his low shot just inside a post from 20 yards.
Goals have been Newcastle's problem, with Shola Ameobi and Michael Owen both suffering injuries that could keep them out for the season. Dyer's return, all the more welcome, was one of six Newcastle changes, which included a place for Bramble.
The centre-back must have been the most relieved man in the stadium to see an Arsenal teamsheet without Henry and managed to keep Adebayor comfortably under control. "I'm very proud of them," said Roeder. "They defended very, very well and scored the classic breakaway goal by a player who thoroughly deserves it."
Hleb, who looks so little like a footballer with his matchstick legs and half-mast socks, and Van Persie led the reprisals until the Dutchman suffered a foot injury shortly before the interval. Henry therefore appeared earlier than intended, no doubt mindful of his comments in The Independent yesterday about the difficulty of breaking down a visiting team who had taken the lead. The extra space down the flanks compared to Highbury should help Arsenal in those situations, but Adebayor, pushed out wider for a while, was less well equipped to exploit it.
The lanky striker might nevertheless have equalised from a central position within 90 seconds of the restart. A lucky deflection from Fabregas's intended pass fell his way but Shay Given, on his return after a nasty injury, held the shot. Given was emerging as Newcastle's hero. In the 58th minute he kept out Henry's first effort and on the hour did even better to thwart Fabregas, who had burst on to Kolo Touré's pass. For one Arsenal attack soon afterwards the visitors had every player bar Martins defending within 20 yards of their goal.
Wenger's last attempt to find a way through involved bringing on Theo Walcott to use his pace down the right, moving Hleb to the left and Adebayor into the centre. It was Henry, however, who conjured up the equaliser with 20 minutes to play.
Making the most of Steven Taylor's challenge as the pair chased a long diagonal pass out of defence, he was granted a free-kick in a perfect position - 25 yards out and wide of goal - and dipped a delicious effort in off the crossbar. The visitors' penalty area became a crowded place for the remainder and was the scene of heroic defending, with black-and-white striped bodies thrown in the way of the ball. Fabregas, twice, and Henry had shots deflected for corners but Newcastle held out for a second successive away League draw.
"A bit of a repetition of what we've seen before," was Wenger's summation. The thousands drifting away early to beat the crush at Arsenal underground station did not need telling that.
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