Fabio Capello was presented yesterday with compelling reasons for picking Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll for next week's friendly against France, but also more than sufficient justification for leaving him out.
Capello was among the 60,000 at the Emirates who witnessed Carroll express the full array of his raw attacking talent. The 21-year-old striker scored the game's only goal with his head just before half-time and was a persistent menace throughout. He gave Arsenal's centre-halves Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci a miserable time with his physique, hard-running and eloquent touch with his left foot.
However, Sunday also showed Carroll at his worst, with further revelations sure to fuel his growing "bad boy" reputation. According to the News of the World, Carroll and his new housemate Kevin Nolan enjoyed a raucous all-night party at Nolan's home to mark last weekend's 5-1 victory over local rivals Sunderland. Heaven only knows how he will celebrate scoring the winning goal at Arsenal.
Carroll, who is currently on bail accused of attacking his ex-girlfriend, was never going to be left out of the trip to Arsenal, according to Newcastle manager Chris Hughton, who has stood by the troubled young star when others might have decided it was time he started learning a few lessons.
Hughton did not want to be drawn on whether it was time for Carroll to earn full recognition with England but Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was clear he felt the Newcastle No 9 was ready to step up to the international stage, saying he reminded him of Mark Hateley, who played under him at Monaco.
"Andy Carroll has stature, charisma and quality," Wenger said. "He is good in the air, strong and can pass the ball well, and has moved forward amazingly quickly. He is a real handful."
Too much of a handful for Arsenal, who also saw Koscielny sent off in stoppage-time for a foul on Newcastle substitute Nile Ranger.
Carroll's goal, his sixth of the season, came in familiar style, with a goal honed on the training ground that exposed Arsenal's weakness at goalkeeper. Joey Barton clipped a free-kick towards the far post, Arsenal keeper Lukasz Fabianski came for the ball but never got out far enough and Carroll rose above the Pole's outstretched arms to head into the net.
Barton said: "We were quite confident we could come here and get a result. We spoke about it and said that everything we could bring, everything in our arsenal, they won't like. We were looking to suck the keeper out. A few times it didn't work but we knew that if it did come off, we would score."
Carroll ran to the Newcastle bench to celebrate the goal with manager Hughton, who is having his work cut out guiding the young striker through his first season in the Premier League.
Hughton said: "He has shown the ability he has got. Everyone knows about his prowess in the air, but there are others aspects of his game that he is very much developing. He is giving us a mobility that can stretch defenders. He has still got a fair way to go, he is working on all aspects of his game and going in the right direction."
Carroll is a rough diamond, perhaps too rough for Capello's tastes, but despite the rawness of his talent there is some genuine weight to the argument that he is worth including against France.
Like Didier Drogba, Carroll is someone who makes life hard for defenders who have to walk a narrow line knowing referees can give free-kicks for the most innocuous of challenges.
With Newcastle winning their last three Premier League games, against West Ham United, Sunderland and now Arsenal, Hughton could not have done more to have earned the approval of owner Mike Ashley, who has yet to offer him a new contract.
His team are certainly working for him, as they proved with a performance of character and ambition at the home of Arsenal. Most teams come to the Emirates knowing they are likely to be passed off the pitch, but Newcastle held their own, with Barton and the unsung Cheik Tiote outstanding in midfield. Tiote, who never stops running and possesses a delicate touch, is a wonderful find by Hughton, who signed him for £3.5m from FC Twente in the summer.
Arsenal had their moments, Cesc Fabregas striking the bar early in the game with a free-kick and Theo Walcott also hitting the woodwork following a clever pass by Jack Wilshere. Tim Krul in the Newcastle goal saved well when Samir Nasri was teed up by Fabregas on the edge of the penalty area. One bright spot was the return of Robin van Persie from the bench after two months out with an ankle injury.
But generally Arsenal were below par and could have few complaints about losing at home to a promoted team for the second occasion this season – following September's 3-2 loss to West Bromwich Albion. The defeat follows a tough few days for Wenger, who has been caught cheating on his wife by a tabloid newspaper.
"We were very unlucky to lose. They had one shot on target and apart from that they defended well but we were not sharp enough to get them out of position quickly enough," Wenger said.
"We were a bit unlucky because we hit the post two or three times and their keeper made a very good save but we put ourselves in a bad position."
Man of the match Tiote Match rating 7/10
Possession Arsenal 48% Newcastle 52%
Shots on target Arsenal 9 Newcastle 2
Referee M Dean (Wirral) Att 60,059
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