Newcastle Utd 1 Arsenal 0: Wenger fumes at strong-arm approach

Click to follow
The Independent Football

At Highbury, the home guard of the Gunners continue to protect a 100 per cent record. On the road, though, week by week, Arsène Wenger's men are living up to the Dad's Army truism that has settled upon them. At Bolton last weekend, Arsène's Arsenal did not like it up 'em and on Tyneside last night they endured another uncomfortable encounter with opponents following more basic instincts.

For half an hour before the interval, the Gunners had Newcastle looking like sitting ducks at a fairground. Only they failed to hit the target - unlike Nolberto Solano. In the second half Newcastle turned the tide with a robust approach that had Arsenal hanging on long before Gilberto Silva's departure for a second bookable offence reduced the visitors to 10 men, from the 57th minute. With eight minutes to go, Solano struck the goal that sent the Toon Army into a state of delirium and consigned Arsenal to defeat number five on their travels - or should that be travails?

It is the first time in four seasons that Arsenal have suffered back-to-back defeats in the Premiership and their manager was not a happy man. "In the second half they decided to go physical and the referee let them get away with it," Wenger lamented, pointing the finger of blame in the direction of Dermot Gallagher, who, to be fair, did allow a couple of crude Alan Shearer challenges to pass unchecked before booking the Newcastle captain late in the game.

"Shearer is an example of a guy who goes first for the man when the ball is in the air and he gets away with it. Either everybody decides it's not a foul, or we make a judo party and everybody maybe will be happy." Wenger's wrath was understandable, if perhaps a little misdirected. His team lost away from home four times last season to finish 12 points behind Chelsea. Their fifth defeat on the road this season has left them 17 points behind the champions, against whom they defend their home record a week today. The Premiership trophy, it is safe to say, will not return to Highbury again.

It probably would not have paid its final visit even if Arsenal had found a finishing touch to match their sweeping one-touch play in the first half. The closest they got was a first-time shot from Thierry Henry that was brilliantly turned wide by Shay Given. It was all Newcastle could do to contain Arsenal. In the second half, though, it was a different story.

Arsenal were already on the ropes before Gilberto was red- carded, the Brazilian having drawn a second booking for a foul on Jean-Alain Boumsong - "If he deserved to be sent off, I need my eyes readjusting," Wenger later bemoaned. That was due in the main to the relentless driving play of Scott Parker who was a man inspired, even after a collision with Jens Lehmann left him with a broken tooth and needing to bite cotton wool to continue.

But Parker, in the 74th minute, was carried from battle after being clattered by Kolo Touré. It was left to Solano to strike the winning blow. A fine one it was, too, the little Peruvian burying a first-time shot after taking a return pass from Shearer.