In the end there was nothing left to control, apart from the ball pressure and the size of the goal. Out of the game? Check completed. Crazy? Check completed. Offside? Check completed.
You could say this takes the fun out of football, but the boys at Stockley Park would have heard the roar from St James’ Park over 300 miles as they finally gave the go-ahead for Anthony Gordon’s goal . Arsenal and Mikel Arteta got red.
In fairness to VAR Andy Madley, he and his team were right. Exhausting? Yes. But less tiring than the post-match debate if a legitimate goal had been disallowed. The 64th-minute effort was enough to inflict a first league defeat of the season on Arsenal, who came into this with the same record as Arsène Wenger’s Invincibles after the first ten games: seven won, three drawn.
It could prove an embarrassing defeat in more ways than one, given an ill-tempered match in which the number of fouls dwarfed the three shots on target. Referee Stuart Attwell was of little help and he acted as if he was eager for a return to the Championship. The limitation is that any referee could have panicked in the midst of this chaos.
Eddie Howe’s side made it a battle from the start and sent the Gunners south to lick their wounds. Their mind and physicality proved far superior in the second half and the victory was deserved.
Arsenal failed to get on target as they chased an equalizer and as they now sit three points behind leaders Manchester City, perhaps this was a season where they needed to go unbeaten to win the title, like Wenger’s 20-year season . past.
However, this version is unlikely to win the Premier League as long as Arteta continues his Kai Havertz experiment. It took on a new guise here, further up the field and close to striker Eddie Nketiah. He’s a very good football player, Havertz, but apparently incapable of playing a very good match.
Newcastle have had to contend with their opposition’s number 10s this season, and that was undoubtedly part of Arteta’s mindset. They managed Havertz. He still made himself the main talking point of a first half in which many shots were fired, but none with a football.
The German said goodbye to the ground and his senses as he tried to block Sean Longstaff’s clearance in the 37th minute. He was lucky to avoid both a red card and Longstaff’s kicking leg. Had he made contact with the latter, his match would have been over. Still, it was a mindless act that could have cost his team, not to mention his opponent, their heads.
Longstaff rightly made the point that escaping serious injury was not a reason not to dismiss Hazertz, and he was booked for that. This also applied to Gordon and Fabian Schar because of their protests. Arsenal thus emerged as the clear victors from this skirmish. Havertz had, unknowingly, finally contributed.
Unlike his teammate, Declan Rice is an exceptional footballer who is seemingly incapable of playing a bad game. But even he became involved in the hostilities and soon exchanged hands with Bruno Guimaraes. That must have caused the Brazilian a commotion, because moments later he left an elbow – off the ball – on the back of Jorginho’s head. It was sneaky and even too cute for VAR.
Too late, in stoppage time of the first half, a football match broke out. At least, in the sense that Guimaraes got a shot wide and Gabriel Martinelli scored the first attempt of the match on target. It had been fast, fun and intense going into half time, but hardly representative of two good football teams.
Your browser does not support iframes.
The heavens opened for what had been an ungodly match at the start of the second half. Did the rain wash the game clean? No chance. Guimaraes left some more to his former compatriot Jorginho, Havertz flirted with red when he punched in Wilson and the latter then claimed he had been elbowed by William Saliba, leading to a VAR check that was not offensive.
Rice should have given Arsenal the lead, but he headed wide from ten yards, a miss they would live to regret.
Newcastle soon had their target, even if they had to wait for confirmation. Jacob Murphy ran clear and smashed across the goal, and the chance looked like it was until Joe Willock retrieved the ball near the corner flag.
It seemed out of the question. He crossed and Joelinton bullied Saliba inside the six-yard box. It could have been a foul. The ball landed in front of Gordon and he fired into the roof of the net from just a meter away. He could have been offside. It all happened in a flash, which is more than can be said for the subsequent five-minute check.
Still, it was worth the wait for the Toon Army.