By Nik Brumsack at St James’ Park
A Fabricio Coloccini own goal was enough to give Arsenal a deserved victory at 10-man Newcastle United on Saturday afternoon.
The game’s deciding moment came just after the break, when the Argentine defender got a crucial touch on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot to divert the ball past Tim Krul.
Before then, Aleksandar Mitrovic had been sent off just 16 minutes into his full home league debut after a studs-up challenge on Francis Coquelin.
The opening stages were filled with endeavour and promise but the red card forced a change in approach. Newcastle set about containing Arsenal but the visitors did still make chances, with Theo Walcott lifting a presentable opportunity over the bar just before the break.
In general this was a spirited performance against a difficult opponent. The Gunners controlled possession but, against a disciplined and typically committed Steve McClaren side, were forced to work for their victory.
It all means that Arsène Wenger’s side go into the international break with seven points from four games. After the frustration of Monday’s draw with Liverpool, this well-earned victory was the perfect response.
SETTING THE SCENE
St James’ Park has been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal in the past. In fact, the Gunners came into this game unbeaten in nine matches on Tyneside, including victories on each of their last three visits.
Wenger made three changes from the side that had drawn at home to Liverpool on Monday night - with one enforced. Mesut Ozil missed out with a minor knee injury, opening the door for Oxlade-Chamberlain to return to the team.
Elsewhere, Laurent Koscielny recovered from the back knock that had kept him out of that game to make his 150th Premier League appearance for the club, and Walcott started for the first time since the Community Shield. Calum Chambers and Olivier Giroud were the men to make way.
Newcastle entered this fixture with an upturn in confidence, having followed up a hard-fought draw at Manchester United last weekend with a convincing 4-1 win over Northampton Town in midweek, McClaren’s first victory since taking charge earlier in the summer.
Mitrovic, who scored a dramatic late equaliser when Arsenal drew 3-3 with Anderlecht last season, spearheaded the home side’s attack.
Before the match, Wenger had spoken of the “very committed nature” surrounding trips to Newcastle.
The start was certainly wholehearted - the visitors manoeuvring the ball confidently, the hosts quick to press when their opposition got over the halfway line.
It took less than 10 minutes for the first big chance to arrive. Hector Bellerin was the creator, cushioning a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Walcott. The England international was clean through but saw his placed effort well saved by Krul, who had raced out of his goal.
The visitors were causing problems down the right flank and had strong appeals for a penalty waved away soon after. Again Bellerin was involved, charging into the box before going down under Florian Thauvin’s challenge.
Then came the first half’s flashpoint. Coquelin picked up possession 10 yards inside his own half and was caught by a dangerous, studs-up Mitrovic challenge as he looked to distribute the ball. Andre Marriner was well-placed and produced a red card. The decision was met with dismay by both Mitrovic and the home faithful but, in truth, the referee’s decision was justified.
It had been a high-octane opening 20 minutes but the hosts retreated after the sending off, pressing the ball only when Arsenal entered the final third. Newcastle did continue to snap into tackles - Moussa Sissoko, Chancel Mbemba and Thauvin were all booked inside the first half hour - as Arsenal hunted a clear opportunity.
It arrived six minutes before the break. Alexis Sanchez found space 20 yards from goal and saw his effort clawed away by Krul. Walcott was first to follow up but, meeting the ball inside the six-yard box, the forward lifted his effort over the crossbar.
The first half saw four yellow cards issued. Within five minutes of the restart, Marriner had shown three more - to Vurnon Anita, Santi Cazorla and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Soon after, Arsenal took the lead after a sustained spell of possession in the hosts’ half. The ball was worked to Cazorla just inside the area and, after his shot was blocked, Aaron Ramsey stung Krul’s palms. The rebound fell to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose driven effort took a crucial touch off Coloccini before nestling in the far corner.
The goal forced Newcastle to become more adventurous. And that suited Arsenal. A quick break ended with Ramsey galloping down the left and finding Alexis, whose toe-poked shot was batted away by Krul.
Soon after, Oxlade-Chamberlain miscontrolled when free in the area before Cazorla called Krul into action after an intricate passing move.
Arsenal were in control but, try as they might, could not find a crucial second goal. Wenger brought on Giroud for Walcott and the French striker almost made an immediate impact, flicking a corner into the path of Alexis, who saw his shot bravely blocked.
Steve McClaren made changes too, introducing Ayoze Perez, Papiss Cisse and Siem de Jong. That trio were given little chance to make an impact though as Arsenal diligently kept possession in the closing stages.
In fact, the Gunners could have won by more were it not for Krul, who denied Giroud at the death. In the end it didn’t matter - Arsenal had warranted their victory.
Referee: Andre Marriner
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