By Chris Harris
Arsenal are four points clear at the top of the Premier League despite being pegged back by Newcastle at St. James' Park.
A stunning volley from Emmanuel Adebayor gave the visitors the lead after just three minutes and the omens looked good - Arsenal had won 18 of the 20 previous games he had scored in. Arsène Wenger's side looked to have the beating of their hosts but Newcastle stormed back.
They almost equalised before the break and finally struck on the hour mark, just when the league leaders appeared to have taken the sting out of the game. Steven Taylor's shot found the net off the inside of the post to deny Arsenal all three points.
The sense of disappointment among the visiting players and fans underlines just how far Arsenal have come this season, but they can be relatively pleased with a haul of four points from trips to Aston Villa and now Newcastle. They head back to the North East on Sunday to face Middlesbrough.
Wenger made two changes from the side which lined up against Villa, both of them forced by injuries. Gilberto replaced Mathieu Flamini (thigh) in the centre of midfield and Eduardo stepped in for Alex Hleb (hamstring), operating just behind Adebayor. Cesc Fabregas, Abou Diaby and Robin van Persie are still working their way back to fitness.
Newcastle, without the injured Michael Owen, were winless in five and, if you believe the press, just one defeat away from parting company with their manager. If that was the case, Sam Allardyce looked in deep trouble after just three minutes.
That's how long it took Adebayor to crash in his ninth goal of a stellar season. The Togolese striker leapt high to meet Emmanuel Eboue's right-wing cross with his chest and, as two defenders closed in, fired a volley into the roof of the net from 12 yards.
It was the perfect start for the league leaders but they were soon on the back foot. Newcastle responded well and almost equalised in an instant, Geremi getting above Kolo Toure to loop a header beyond Manuel Almunia but inches past the post.
The home side's front pairing of Alan Smith and Obafemi Martins occupied Toure and William Gallas while Arsenal's full backs were pushed back by the industry of James Milner and Habib Beye. But Newcastle's surge petered out and the visitors took control.
Tomas Rosicky, cutting in from the left, Eduardo, picking up loose balls from deep and Adebayor, leading the line wonderfully well, threatened to carve Newcastle open while Diarra continued to impress in midfield.
It was the Frenchman who set up Arsenal's next decent chance after 17 minutes. Tenaciously charging through two challenges, Diarra picked out Adebayor in the left channel. The striker failed to spot Eduardo's run into the box but glided past a defender and forced Shay Given to save from a narrow angle. Rosicky's corner kick flicked off the head of a defender and landed at Gilberto's feet eight yards out, but the Brazilian was unable to wrap his foot around the ball and skewed his shot wide.
Back came Newcastle. Geremi's low free kick found a way through Arsenal's wall in the 27th minute but Almunia plunged to his left and clung on to the ball with Smith lurking. The Spanish keeper and his defenders were kept under pressure by a series of teasing deliveries from the flank. Charles N'Zogbia's cross just eluded David Rozehnal and Nicky Butt, then Taylor's header from N'Zogbia's cross was tipped towards the post by Almunia before Gael Clichy completed the clearance.
Almunia made another good claim under severe pressure from Taylor from a Geremi cross, then Toure hacked away as the Cameroonian tested Arsenal again from the right flank. Newcastle finished the first half strongly and had the first chance of the second half, N'Zogbia getting everything behind a shot from 25 yards. Fortunately, Almunia got everything behind the save.
You sensed a second Arsenal goal would finish off a Newcastle side clearly lacking confidence, and a couple of ;half-chances came and went. Four minutes after the break Rosicky skipped away from a challenge, opted not to try his luck and instead found Eboue on the right. The Ivorian hammered in a first-time shot from a narrow angle but it went straight at Given. Then Rosicky burst clear from the halfway line after a slip-up in the Newcastle midfield but Rozehnal raced back to dispossess the Czech.
The home team had gone into their shell but Arsenal got sloppy, giving the ball away too cheaply and encouraging Newcastle to regain the initiative. They did so. Milner twisted and turned inside the box before forcing a good save from Almunia, who dived full stretch ;to claim the winger's low cross.
Arsenal got away with it on that occasion but they were punished on ;the hour mark for relinquishing possession again. This time Eduardo lost the ball on the left as the visitors looked to counter-attack after a corner. Habib Beye crossed, Smith flicked on and, when the ball eluded Sagna and Martins, Taylor span to fire a shot in off the post.
Newcastle roared forward but, woken up by the equaliser, Arsenal regained a semblance of control. Nicklas Bendtner replaced the tiring Eduardo and provided more bulk to the visitors' attack. One poor touch denied the Dane a good chance 20 yards out while Rosicky's low centre from Eboue's deep right-wing delivery was almost turned in.
Adebayor had claims for a penalty turned down after he exchanged passes with Rosicky and surged into the box. Then Newcastle almost snatched it a minute from time when Eboue cleared after a scramble in the Arsenal area. In the end, both sides can take positives from a point - Arsenal have extended their lead at the top and Allardyce has extended his stay on Tyneside.
- Sagna Yellow Card
- Diarra Yellow Card
- Eduardo 68
- Adebayor Goal!
- Bendtner 68
- Given Yellow Card
- Taylor Goal!
- Beye Yellow Card
- Barton Yellow Card
- Njitap 77
- Viduka 77