By Richard Clarke
Arsenal picked up a pedestrian yet priceless point at Newcastle on Easter Monday.
After the exhilarating yet frustrating defeat against West Ham on Emirates Stadium on Saturday, this was not exactly what Arsène Wenger would have ordered. The Frenchman is a football connoisseur and this was poor fare with precious few chances.
However it does, at least, arrest a run of three straight defeats and - given Everton's draw at Bolton - the point maintains Arsenal's control of the fourth and final Champions League place. Remember Sam Allardyce's side visit Emirates on Saturday.
Oguchi Oneywu forced a first-half save from Jens Lehmann while Gilberto was twice denied by goalline clearances from Noberto Solano six minutes from the end.
Apart for that, little went on. There was none of Saturday's flair from the visitors but more than enough grit to merit the draw.
Before kick-off, Wenger decided to stick with the side that had somehow been defeated by West Ham on Saturday. Tomas Rosicky had been laid low with sickness and was replaced by Abou Diaby. However it was not a straight swap on the left side of midfield. The French youngster was the most advanced of Arsenal's five-man midfield. Freddie Ljungberg had played the support striker role on Saturday however this afternoon he slotted in on the left.
It was grey day on Tyneside. Both these teams had been hit hard by European exits and were struggling to muster much of a run until the end of the season. At the same time both were yet to secure campaigns on the Continent next season. Wenger's men were teetering somewhat in fourth place while Newcastle still harboured hopes of snatching a Uefa Cup berth.
However a drab first half did not suggest either side had much to play for.
Alex Hleb had the first effort when he cracked a shot at Shay Given in the fifth minute. On the quarter-hour Emre drilled a free-kick into the crowded penalty area and Onyewu smashed a shot to Lehmann's right. The big German managed to push the ball behind for a corner.
Newcastle went on to enjoy a spell of dominance but their nearest effort was Damien Duff's trickling cross-cum-shot beyond the far post.
However the loss of Shay Given in the 25th minute threw the home side out of their stride. There seemed no sign of injury ahead of his substitution by Steve Harper but the Irishman was hobbling as he went off.
Immediately after that Arsenal forged their best chance of the half. Fabregas flung a corner to the near post and Adebayor planted a firm header over the bar. However the visitors could not sustain the pressure. Five minutes from the break Nicky Butt reached the byline and hooked the ball back for Duff to stab a shot wide.
The first half had been no advert for Premiership football.
The second period at least started at a pace. Duff lobbed an optimistic effort against Lehmann's bar and the home side enjoyed significant possession just outside the Arsenal area.
In the 51st minute, Newcastle were forced into another significant substitution when Kieron Dyer was replaced by Charles N'Zogbia.
A grounded Hleb put Eboue through on in the right hand channel but the Ivorian sliced his effort wide. It would be Hleb's last input into the game. He was withdrawn in favour of Julio Baptista. The Brazilian joined Adebayor up front in a withdrawn striker's role as Arsenal switched to a marginally more attacking formation.
In the 76th minute, Steven Taylor tangled with Lehmann. The Newcastle defender got booked along with William Gallas. That was about as exciting as this game would get.
The match seemed certain to finish goalless and the chances Arsenal spurned in the 84th minute only confirmed it. Ljungberg crossed from the right and Noberto Solano cleared off the line from Gilberto at the start of the incredible melee that also saw Fabregas' shot somehow bundled away just inches from goal.
Newcastle had one last chance to snatch a point but Taylor just failed to connect with a free-kick at the far post.
It was reminiscent of Saturday. Only this time Arsenal went on to get what they deserved.
- Gallas Yellow Card
- Hleb 60
- Ljungberg Yellow Card
- Adebayor 71
- Baptista 60
- Aliadiere 71
- Given 25
- Taylor Yellow Card
- Dyer 51
- Emre 88
- Harper 25
- N'Zogbia 51
- Luque 88