Arsenal dominate early and Newcastle dominate late but it is honours even at half-time at St James’ Park.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsène Wenger made the expected changes for the trip to St James’ Park – but there were largely enforced.
Mesut Ozil had fallen on his shoulder while Thomas Vermaelen had succumbed to sickness. Jack Wilshere was back from suspension and Laurent Koscielny had recovered from the cut on the knee he had sustained at Manchester City.
Tomas Rosicky returned to make his 200th appearance and Mathieu Flamini came back into the side. Mikel Arteta and the injured Aaron Ramsey dropped out. Nacho Monreal was left at home as he was suffering from sickness too.
If Arsenal were suffering from a little festive lethargy it did not show. The visitors were fast out of the blocks and pressed back their hosts in the early stages.
Santi Cazorla and Wilshere were impish and inventive. Frequently their contributions were denied by a last ditch Newcastle leg.
It took the home side 15 minutes to break out of their half but they created the first bona fide chance when Loic Remy chipped to the far post and Moussa Sissoko’s header was held by Szczesny.
Wilshere fired over and Rosicky smashed a shot into the stomach of keeper Tim Krul.
But by now Newcastle had parity in the game. The closest they came to breaking the deadlock was when Mathieu Debuchy drove wide.
Mertesacker responded in kind as the first half meandered to a somewhat niggly conclusion.
However Newcastle nearly stole the lead in injury time. Sissoko’s drive was tipped over by Szczesny and, from the resulting corner, Debuchy sent an arching header against the far post.
It was a shot across the Arsenal bow but overall the visitors could be satisfied enough with the work in the first half.
Referee: Lee Probert
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