By Richard Clarke at St. James' Park
Ten-man Arsenal were held to a goalless draw at Newcastle on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Arsène Wenger’s side bossed the game and seemed set for a late charge before Gervinho was sent off in the 75th minute.
The debutant raced into the area from the left-hand flank, cut inside Cheik Tiote and tumbled over his challenge. Referee Peter Walton refused the penalty but Joey Barton took issue with the Ivorian.
After a brief skirmish, Gervinho was dismissed and Barton saw yellow.
The point was scant reward for Arsenal, who dominated in both possession and territory.
Robin van Persie whisked a free-kick inches over the bar and Theo Walcott saw a low shot saved by Tim Krul.
The red card denied everyone the crescendo this open game deserved. However, if Arsenal continue to perform at this level throughout the campaign, they will be challenging at the top once again.
It had been a difficult few days for the Club. One of those annoying periods when the stories seem to overtake the football.
Wenger’s men just need to play – and win – a game. Here was an opportunity.
Gervinho was handed his full debut on the left of midfield with Andrey Arshavin on the opposite flank. Tomas Rosicky was just behind frontman Robin van Persie. New signings Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson were on the bench.
Newcastle had been under scrutiny themselves and the main focus was Barton. The midfielder had been made available for a free transfer but was still selected in midfield this afternoon.
The Englishman had been in the limelight during that incredible game last season. It was his tackle which had elicited the melee after which Abou Diaby had been sent off. Later on, Barton had scored two penalties in that incredible comeback.
Both sides could probably do without that sort of drama this afternoon – but a better result.
And in the first half only Arsenal looked capable of achieving that.
Wenger’s men found their feet early on and, bar the odd pocket of Newcastle pressure, never slipped up.
In the opening minutes, Kieran Gibbs and Arshavin combined to put Gervinho momentarily clear on the right however the ball got stuck under his feet and Tomas Rosicky’s follow-up shot flew wide.
Arsenal were direct going forward and strong in the tackle when they did lose the ball. And the new signing from Lille was catching the eye.
In the 18th minute, Gervinho’s cross fortunately fell to Van Persie six yards out but his shot deflected wide.
For Newcastle, Jonas Gutierrez thundered a volley well wide and Wojciech Szczesny snaffled the ball after Danny Simpson’s cross was deflected towards the near post by Gibbs. But that was about it.
On the half hour Laurent Koscienly beat Tim Krul to Rosicky’s corner but the header was booted away from danger by Simpson.
Arsenal continued to ask all the questions. They were profligate at times – like when Arshavin found Fabricio Coloccini, the only covering defender, as he sought out Gervinho. But mostly Arsenal were slick and incisive with only the final ball sometimes lacking.
Two minutes from the break, Arshavin’s shovel pass set Van Persie free for a second but – as it had a couple of times a few times in the first half - the ball would not settle for Arsenal and chance went begging.
The start of the second half was all Arsenal once more. Nine minutes in, Gutierrez clipped Sagna on the right and Van Persie sent a free-kick inches over the bar.
At the other end, Gabriel Obertan’s flick sent Yohan Cabaye clear for a second but Arsenal smothered the danger.
Wenger replaced Arshavin with Walcott and, within minutes, the Englishman nearly put Arsenal ahead. He received Ramsey’s pass on the left of the area, cut inside his marker and let fly. Krul gathered at the second attempt.
Arsenal were now penning Newcastle back in their own half and looking for the winner.
Then, in the 75th minute, the game changed
Gervinho sped down the left, darted inside the area and cut back on Tiote. The Arsenal winger went down under the trailing leg of the Newcastle midfielder and referee Walton waved play on.
However Barton took issue with Gervinho and a momentary melee ensued. Once the dust had settled referee Walton handed a red card to the Arsenal combatant and a yellow to the Newcastle one.
The dismissal sucked the life out of the game. Newcastle barely mustered a notable chance and Arsenal were reluctant to go forward for fear of finishing with no points.
They had deserved all three.
Referee: Peter Walton
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