Arsenal's week at the knees Wenger frustrated as Newcastle suffocate Gunners' attempt to revive their title challenge

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One hell of a week for the Arsenal, as the Highbury faithful were probably chorusing last night. The stricken creature had crawled back to its Highbury lair that many would have preferred it never to have departed, following successive Champions' League defeats by Barcelona and Fiorentina, but still the goals refused to flow.

One hell of a week for the Arsenal, as the Highbury faithful were probably chorusing last night. The stricken creature had crawled back to its Highbury lair that many would have preferred it never to have departed, following successive Champions' League defeats by Barcelona and Fiorentina, but still the goals refused to flow.

Instead of the savage response that might have been anticipated, the beast merely licked its wounds and granted the visiting Toon Army that hitherto unknown and exquisite pleasure this season, an away point. "You could see that Wednesday night had left some damage in our brains and legs," their manager, Arsÿne Wenger, reflected. On Wednesday, poor finishing from Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu was the principal explanation. Here, an unfamiliar line-up looked as pallid as their manager's complexion, creating precious little on an afternoon when their visitors' ambition was so restricted there was a suspicion they believed a visa was required to enter their opponents' half.

The whole affair was so stupefyingly tedious that a debate on the merits of the Common Agricultural Policy might have been more stimulating. This was not Bobby Robson's way, but after six consecutive away defeats, during which his team had conceded 20 goals, needs must. "I can't really apologise for the way we played," he said. "I'd like to, but we've leaked goals away from home and to win our first point at Arsenal was terrific. I'm not like that generally. I like to think that football is a pleasure, but in our situation, when Premiership status is crucial, we have to fight like this against top opponents. We could have got a pounding if we had tried to think we are as good as they are, because basically we are not."

So, now Arsenal can concentrate on winning the League then. That, of course, was the mantra of all red-clad supporters as they drifted away from their adopted home after Gabriel Batistuta had concluded their Champions' League campaign. Not like this, they won't, with Leeds emerging victors against West Ham and Manchester United back on song.

This was the only Premiership ground where Alan Shearer has played and not scored a League goal and that trend was always likely to continue as Robson's defensive strategy, founded on the redoubtable Franck Dumas as sweeper, also meant a dearth of opportunities for his front players. Shearer, who received not one invitation to add to his 13 goals this season but a surfeit of abuse for constantly complaining to the officials, was wrestled to the ground just outside the area by Martin Keown in the second half. The Arsenal man seemingly escaped lightly with a yellow card from referee Peter Jones, after discussion with an assistant, when a red appeared the likely option. However, Wenger appeared correct when he later accused the England captain of fouling Keown first. That was as exciting, and controversial, as it got.

Newcastle have veered between the sublime, the satisfactory and the simply ordinary since Robson's arrival. He must have been heartened by the Arsenal line-up, at least by the one on the bench - including Bergkamp, Overmars and Kanu. His hope was that they would remain there. In fact, the two Dutchmen were introduced in the second half, but to no avail.

If anything, the home side deteriorated in the second half after an indifferent first period when Thierry Henry and Gilles Grimandi went close and Patrick Vieira apparently should have been credited with a goal. Fate really has not favoured the Frenchman. Suspended for six weeks by the Football Association on Thursday - due to start on 20 November - his header here was shown by TV replays to have crossed the line before Dumas hacked the ball clear.

In Arsenal's mitigation, Luzhny was covering for Lee Dixon at right-back with Silvinho moving into midfield alongside Grimandi. Davor Suker, with such an impressive goal record with Arsenal, was restored while Henry, also given the chance to start, performed well enough before the break. But with Vieira not his usual forceful self, the absence of Emmanuel Petit was again crucial as Arsenal struggled to impose themselves.

It was as well they did, with Newcastle relying on their third-choice goalkeeper, John Karelse. He was pressed into action because Shay Given and Steve Harper were injured and suspended, respectively. The Dutchman had conceded seven in his only two games and the way he flapped at one first-half corner explained why there are such reservations about him. But fortunately his defence protected him with aplomb. "We tackled like tigers and jumped like salmons," Robson said. "We were always first to the ball. In open play they didn't break through us." That left nothing for Arsenal to enthuse about. A week best forgotten.

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