It was Newcastle who put the final nail in Arsenal’s top four hopes last season, and it is Eddie Howe’s side who might just have cracked the first gap in the gleaming armour of Mikel Arteta’s Premier League title contenders. This 0-0 draw may not be as damaging as the 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park back in May, but it will carry a similar feeling of irritation for the Gunners. For Arsenal, at this stage, passing up the chance to move 10 points clear at the top of the table is hardly a disaster, but the frustration and fury written across Areta’s face and in every movement on the touchline was clear to see as his side dropped points.
Rather than a contest between two teams riding high in the table, this was an ill-tempered and ill-discplined affair but Newcastle made it so and seemed to trick Arsenal into joining them. Howe will argue that Newcastle needed to take such an approach in order to become the first Premier League side apart from Arsenal to take points at the Emirates this season. In doing so, they have also passed a real test of their top-four credentials.
Arsenal will regret being caught up in the emotion of it all, with tempers finally boiling over as Arteta and his players appealed for a penalty at the death. Newcastle had long since rattled them. From a fast and fluid start, Arteta’s team forgot the principles of their play and were shut out for the first time this season. Newcastle and then referee Andrew Madley riled the home supporters and from the promise and expectation of putting distance between themselves and Manchester City, Arsenal were made to look a far poorer team, distracted by frustration rather than being controlled by precision.
Newcastle, to their credit, defended excellently and restricted Arsenal to few chances. Kieran Trippier comprehensively won his duel with Gabriel Martinelli and Dan Burn, after a shaky start, was able to shackle Bukayo Saka despite it first appearing to be a rather one-sided and mismatched contest. This was a team effort, though. The full-backs were supported by the back-tracking wingers and Howe’s side have now kept six clean sheets in a row in all competitions, only conceding once since October.
Martinelli’s glancing header from Martin Odegaard’s corner and Eddie Nketiah’s low drive saved by the feet of Nick Pope was as close as they came. Joelinton had an even better chance at the end of the first half for Newcastle and although they did not threaten once in the second, they still head back to the North East with a point thanks to a game-plan executed to perfection.
In the finest of swirling rain, there was a completely different feel to any fixture staged between these teams at this stadium. It was a meeting of first and third in the Premier League and there was an edge and electricity to match such a contest. Arsenal played on it to begin with. In a start that brought intensity and sharpness, they quickly figured out how to play through Newcastle and routinely hit Saka, who seemed to have the clear beating of the giant Burn.
It took just five minutes for Saka to squeeze around the outside of the left back, drawing Pope into a save at his near post. Nketiah’s work with his back to goal created space for Saka and Arsenal to flow into. Odegaard volleyed over, Martinelli routinely found space on the left, while Granit Xhaka also saw an opening. Gabriel saw a header from Odegaard’s free-kick loop just wide. It came from Joelinton’s foul on the Arsenal captain, which quickly became a recurring theme as Newcastle worked out how to slow Arteta’s side down.
The game changed when Newcastle burrowed a hole inside Arsenal’s heads. Their press had been ineffective to begin with but Howe’s side were able to frustrate Arsneal more by dropping off into a tight shape. When Arsenal were able to turn, they fouled, and when Bruno Guimaraes and Fabian Schar were booked, they put the same pressure on referee Madley to show equal punishment to Nketiah and then Odegaard in their first offences.
The home crowd rose and at first the bite seemed to help Arsenal, but the balance turned as the mood inside the Emirates did too. If there was a sense that Madley had lost control, it would be fair to say the same happened to Arsenal, as Xhaka then slid in to pick up the fifth booking of the half. Arsenal had lost their rhythm, they had stopped hitting Saka, and Martinelli was barely given the chance to test Tripper.
Newcastle had seemed content to take as long as they could from every restart, but Trippier’s quickly taken free-kick led to the best chance of the opening period. It fell to Newcastle as Joeltinton headed wide at the back post, after Schar had flicked on Trippier’s resulting corner.
It was as close as Newcastle came and their second half was defined by their defensive effort. Arsenal eventually regained their composure, but they were also fortunate not to be punished as they fought to take back control. Aaron Ramsdale was caught on the ball by Joelinton and Xhaka was close to bringing down Miguel Almiron in the box, as the Arsenal midfielder slid in again dangerously. Almiron then fizzed a cross that narrowly missed Callum Wilson.
By the end, Arsenal had Newcastle pinned inside their box but Newcastle held firm. Martinelli’s flicked header dropped wide before a chance finally fell to Nketiah in the box, but Pope got down well. Tempers on the touchline between Arteta and Howe finally spilled over when Arsenal had a 95th-minute handball appeal waved away, as Xhaka’s cross was blocked by Jacob Murphy. Arsenal surrounded Madley but to no avail. They had already showed too much emotion for one night.