By Richard Clarke
The enduring importance of Thierry Henry was demonstrated in stark fashion against Newcastle on Saturday.
Despite dominating the game, Arsène Wenger's side once again fell behind at Emirates Stadium. As against Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Everton, it was a stolen goal. This time Keiron Dyer was the robber in the 29th minute.
At this point Henry was a spectator. He had begun on the bench this afternoon as Wenger rotated his side ahead of the crucial Champions League tie with Hamburg on Tuesday. But his time would come. The Frenchman replaced the injured Robin van Persie at half time and, in the 70th minute, crashed home an equalising free-kick.
It was less than Arsenal deserved. Once again, they had controlled a game at home without bagging the points. The North London side have now played 10 games at their new home. They are still unbeaten but a record of five wins and five draws needs improvement.
The omission of Henry was the major surprise in Wenger's team selection. In his place, Emmanuel Adebayor was asked to plough a lone furrow up front.
Jens Lehmann returned after a throat infection and Julio Baptista was back after six weeks out with a hamstring injury. He replaced Gilberto who had returned to Brazil for family reasons.
Newcastle had Shay Given and Dyer back after long absences. While they had been out, Glenn Roeder's side had been struggling. Their side came into this game down in the relegation places and desperate for points.
The opening stages were quietly controlled by Arsenal. Baptista stooped to nod the ball high over the bar and the Alex Hleb drilled a shot just wide.
In the 13th minute, Adebayor muscled off Bramble and laid the ball back for Eboue whose cross just evaded the leaping Van Persie at the far post. In the 20th Fabregas slashed an effort high.
At the midway point in the half the Spaniard sent a shot just over the bar again. Only this time it was only inches off target and was preceded by a crisp interchange between Fabregas and Hleb.
You hoped it was a sign that Arsenal were working through the gears because thus far the game had been pretty pedestrian.
In fact Newcastle would take the lead a couple of minutes later. Obafemi Martins beat Gael Clichy in the air and his header fell to Dyer, who cut inside Eboue, looked up and curled a low shot beyond the stretching Lehmann and into the far corner of the net.
Yet again Arsenal had enjoyed all the possession at Emirates Stadium but had fallen behind.
To their credit, the home side were not rattled by the goal. They patiently persisted with intricate patterns just outside the Newcastle penalty area. One move ended with Van Persie spearing a shot into the chest of Given from long range. Seven minutes before half time the Dutchman curled an effort over the bar.
Eboue seemed the most likely supplier of an equaliser. Three minutes from the break, the right back fed Fabregas on the edge of the area. He clipped a ball into the six yard box and Adebayor nodded over.
Hleb saw a drive deflect - possibly off Scott Parker's hand - and go over then Van Persie steered a shot wide. It was all Arsenal but, as so often this season, Wenger's team went into half time dominant yet trailing.
Van Persie failed to appear for the second half. The Dutchman had jarred his foot just before the break as he fired in a shot. Henry came on.
Within seconds Arsenal might have been level. Hleb cut in from the right and Fabregas' pass through was deflected into the path of Adebayor. The big striker swivelled and sent a vicious shot goalward. Unfortunately it was straight at Given.
But as Arsenal started to push, Newcastle enjoyed a couple of opportunities. The best came when Dyer thumped an effort wide.
Just before the hour Clichy robbed Nolberto Solano and Henry's shot forced Given to palm the ball aside. Then the keeper produced another quality stop after Toure's lofted pass had found Fabregas in space.
In the 63rd minute, Wenger brought on Theo Walcott for the tiring Baptista. The equaliser arrived seven minutes later.
Steven Taylor hauled down Henry as he looked to latch on to a long ball forward. The striker stepped up to curl home the free-kick. The ball crashed down off the bar and into the net with Given beaten.
The quest was on to complete the comeback. Arsenal redoubled their efforts and they came agonisingly close when a Fabregas shot deflected off Craig Moore and trickled inches wide. Then Henry's cross was diverted on to the post.
With six minutes left the French striker looked to curl a shot into the far corner. But for Given's flying stop he would have pulled it off.
As they seconds ticked away Arsenal threw a plethora of crosses into the Newcastle box. None managed to penetrate the morass of bodies in the box.
Deep into injury time Toure's goalbound drive was repelled. It was the final act of another frustrating drama at Emirates Stadium.
- Gallas Yellow Card
- Fabregas Yellow Card
- Baptista 64
- Persie 46
- Walcott 64
- Henry 46 Goal!
- Given Yellow Card
- Taylor Yellow Card
- Bramble Yellow Card
- Moore 89
- Solano 74
- Duff 86 Yellow Card
- Dyer Goal!
- Sibierski 89
- Milner 74
- N'Zogbia 86