Newcastle United 0-0 Arsenal – Gunners’ toothless attack previews life without Fabregas and Nasri

St James’ Park, Newcastle
Gervinho sent off 76

Gervinho was sent off after an altercation with Joey Barton as Arsenal saw a preview of life without Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas in a tepid goalless draw with Newcastle United that only threatened to spark into life when the summer signing from Lille saw red late in the second-half, but largely failed even then.

Newcastle gave a debut to striker Demba Ba and midfielder Yohan Cabaye, but the biggest news from the Magpies XI was the inclusion of Barton, openly at war with the club’s hierarchy, available on a free transfer but part of Alan Pardew’s midfield. Arsenal lined up with new signing Gervinho as part of a three-man attack, joined by Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin, with Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song the midfield trio behind. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal ahead of Lukas Fabianski.

The opening 10 minutes was end-to-end but largely lacking in quality. Arsenal employed their usual intricate passing but failed to get a shot on target, while Newcastle looked to break quickly and directly but lacked the fluency and the freedom to do so adequately. Space was at a premium in midfield with Arsenal’s fluid trio, Barton taking up his customary narrow-right midfield role and Ba dropping back to even the odds. Perhaps, as a consequence of Newcastle’s two-man central unit against Arsenal’s three, the Magpies were slower to press than their opponents, instead pulling men behind the ball and inviting Arsenal to break them down. The Gunners took control as the half wore on, with Gervinho’s dribbling a threat, but chances were still precious in their rarity. Van Persie had the clearest sight of goal after good work by Arshavin but hesitated and the chance was lost.

Gabriel Obertan replaced Ba at half-time, slotting in just behind Shola Ameobi, but any improvement in quality – from either side – was minimal at best. The incident of most intrigue came on the hour mark when Song reacted to a Barton challenge with a stamp on the back of the Newcastle player’s ankles that went unpunished. Arsene Wenger attempted to inject something more savory into proceedings with the introduction of Theo Walcott for Arshavin, a necessary move after 60 minutes of what could only loosely be termed action. Walcott made a quick impact, having the first shot on target of the match just minutes after coming on, and looked to stretch the Newcastle defence in a way only Gervinho had to that point. Obertan showed similar flashes for Newcastle but with a similar, goal-free outcome.

Pardew responded to Gervinho’s dismissal by introducing the pace of Peter Lovenkrands to exploit the numerical disparity – the manager’s third attacking change after replacing Ameobi with Leon Best – but with Arsenal retreating into their shell and dropping deep there was little grass for the Dane to run into. The game then petered out in a manner entirely fitting with the turgid fair on show for the 90 minutes, with Newcastle taking a deserved point and Arsenal left to rue life without their creators-in-chief.

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