Arsenal 0-0 Newcastle
Arsenal slipped further off the pace in the Barclays Premiership despite ending a run of three successive league defeats with a goalless draw at Newcastle.
The Gunners, who have never lost four consecutive league matches under Arsene Wenger, might have done so had James Milner’s 46th-minute shot not come back off the crossbar on an afternoon when Newcastle were a match for their illustrious opponents.
Wenger’s side, as ever, played some attractive football, but created few opportunities of any note until a late flurry which brought the best out of Nolberto Solano.
The Magpies’ approach may have been a little more prosaic, but if anything, they had the clear openings, with winger Damien Duff twice going close at the end of a first half during which defender Oguchi Onyewu had forced a good save from keeper Jens Lehmann.
However, a point apiece was fair and the home fans among a crowd of 52,293 left St James’ Park the happier.
The Magpies returned to the scene of last Saturday’s dismal 1-0 defeat by Manchester City knowing their supporters would not tolerate a repeat of that performance, although equally aware the opposition would be much, much more dangerous.
However, in the event, they fought out an even first half during which the Gunners played some typically pleasing football while rarely looking likely to cut the hosts open.
Goalkeeper Shay Given had only one real save to make when he got down well to keep out Alexander Hleb’s fifth-minute shot, although his afternoon came to a premature conclusion when he was caught in a challenge with striker Emmanuel Adebayor and for the fourth time this season had to leave the pitch with just 26 minutes gone.
His replacement, Steve Harper, was no busier during the remainder of the opening period and while Lehmann had only one save of any note to make, getting down well to palm away defender Onyewu’s 16th-minute snapshot, it was his goal which was more often the focus of attention.
Duff found himself in space on the left on 23 minutes after Obafemi Martins, who was causing the visitors’ defence all kinds of problems both in the air and on the ground, linked well with Nicky Butt.
The Republic of Ireland international surged into the box before firing a left-foot shot across Lehmann, but wide of the far post.
Adebayor headed a 31st-minute Cesc Fabregas corner over Harper’s crossbar, but Duff might have made the breakthrough twice within three minutes at the end of the half.
First, he saw a right-foot shot blocked at the near post after Butt had pulled the ball back from the goal-line and he then stabbed an effort across goal as panic set in at the back for the Gunners amid an untidy scramble.
Sensing an opportunity, the Magpies returned in determined fashion and had gone close twice by the time the clocked ticked on to the 47th-minute.
Full-back Gael Clichy had to climb high at the far post to head a Duff cross away from Milner and the former Leeds man went desperately close himself seconds later.
Milner fired the ball in from the right and saw it curl beyond the stranded Lehmann only to come back off the crossbar.
Glenn Roeder had to change the shape of his side on 52 minutes when Kieron Dyer limped off unhappily and was replaced by Charles N’Zogbia, who went straight into central midfield, with Emre asked to provide the support for lone striker Martins in a diminutive partnership.
The home side lost their rhythm as they attempted to regroup and Harper’s goal came under threat on 57 minutes when Emmanuel Eboue burst forward and let fly, although his right-foot effort was always curling away from the target.
Wenger made his move on 61 minutes when he replaced Hleb with striker Julio Baptista in the search for what looked likely to be the decisive first goal.
However, Emre almost opened up the visitors’ defence with a mazy 64th-minute run, although when the ball fell to Duff, he wasted the opportunity to either cross or shoot and was muscled out of it.
Jeremie Aliadiere arrived as a 71st-minute replacement for Adebayor as the Gunners made their final push and the home side found themselves defending deep and in numbers.
And but for Solano, the man who scored the winner in the same game last season, the Frenchman might have won it at the death, the Peruvian clearing Gilberto’s 84th-minute effort off the line and then blocking Aliadiere’s follow-up.
There was controversy at the death when referee Howard Webb, who had spoken to Diaby about his attempts to contain Onyewu as Milner prepared to curl a free-kick into the box, then allowed him to effectively rugby tackle the defender when the ball came in.
Match report thanks to ESPN Soccernet