Arsenal capitalise on Mitrovic red and Coloccini error at Newcastle

The old joke about lies, damn lies and statistics has rarely seemed more apposite. By the end of a thoroughly contradictory afternoon, Newcastle had collected seven cards, six yellow and one red, yet the game was distinguished by a lack of gruesome fouls.

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A similar disconnect applied to Arsenal’s attacking play – despite creating around 20 chances Arsène Wenger’s side rarely looked like scoring and, ultimately, had to rely on a somewhat fortunate own goal from Fabricio Coloccini for their three points. Moreover they played against 10 men for most of a match shaped by Alexsandar Mitrovic’s controversial 16th minute sending off.

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Despite hardly troubling Petr Cech, Newcastle’s commitment and defensive cohesion was sufficient to earn Steve McClaren and his players warm applause at the final whistle. In previous years two points from four games would probably have heralded a mini-crisis on Tyneside but there is a recognition that Newcastle are already much improved from last term and require time to gel.

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If the Gallowgate End has good reason to be satisfied with the prospect of jam tomorrow, Arsenal fans seem to have been waiting for another realistic title challenge for what feels an eternity.

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This could still be their season but right now something is not quite adding up for Wenger. With Tim Krul rarely stretched to the limit, visiting fans were left pining for the absent Mesut Özil and Jack Wilshere as Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and company failed to justify the hype which haunts their every step.

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Mitrovic is gaining a rather less enviable reputation. After acquiring two yellow cards within two minutes of stepping off the bench in his first two appearances, the Serbia striker swiftly saw red here.

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Having started in preference to Papiss Cissé at the apex of McClaren’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the £13m buy from Anderlecht had barely broken sweat before Andre Marriner felt compelled to send him off.

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The offence in question was a stamp. It left Francis Coquelin writhing in agony, clutching a shin which could have done without such a brutal introduction to Mitrovic’s studs. In mitigation, the challenge was mistimed rather than malicious and a booking might have been a more appropriate sanction. Marriner though clearly thought intent was irrelevant and the contact with the shin bone both reckless and dangerous.

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Adamant that the referee had spoilt the game by slipping into pedantic zealot mode McClaren disagreed. “There’s no intent, no malice,” said Newcastle’s manager. “It was definitely not dangerous. It was clumsy. Football’s a contact sport, it’s a physical sport and we can’t take that away. It wasn’t a dirty game, we haven’t kicked them off the park. The cards were all fouls but I think the ref has reacted too harshly, too rashly with every one of them.”

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Despite seeing the game through a radically different prism. Wenger offered qualified sympathy. “Mitrovic went a bit overboard,” said Arsenal’s manager. “It was a red card, he didn’t try to play the ball as well but it was maybe a bit unlucky as well. But Newcastle wanted to stop us from playing, from moving the ball quickly. They decided from the start to make the game quite physical so we had to keep our nerve and not become a little bit aggressive as well.”

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His players succeeded in maintaining such serenity when, shortly before the sending off, they were denied a clear cut penalty. An impulsive moment on Florian Thauvin’s part emphasised that tracking back is not really the former Marseille winger’s forte before resulting in a blatant trip on Héctor Bellerín inside the area.

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Creditably McClaren’s players made the very most of it of that reprieve. Reduced to 10 men they worked incredibly hard with Jack Colback and Daryl Janmaat prominent among those doing their utmost to deprive Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sánchez and company the time and space they craved.

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In between all this industry, Moussa Sissoko, who regularly fazed Nacho Monreal, and Georginio Wijnaldum found time to sporadically ruffle Arsenal on the counter-attack. Wenger later admitted to having been “a little nervous,” although his mood would surely have been much lighter had Theo Walcott not missed a most inviting first half chance after Krul parried Sanchez’s shot.

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Overall Walcott, preferred to Olivier Giroud in the lone striker role, did little to deconstruct theories that Wenger is one top class centre-forward away from a serious title challenge.

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It was left to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to create the winner when Krul parried Aaron Ramsey’s shot and, connecting with the rebound, he unleashed an angled first time effort. It seemed to be sailing harmlessly wide before deflecting off Coloccini and diverting into the back of the net.

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“Newcastle defended well,” said Wenger. “They showed why they didn’t concede at Manchester United last week. We didn’t find the space. We’re happy to win.” – The Guardian

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