ARSENAL(0) v/s NEWCASTLE UNITED(1)
MANAGER Arsene Wenger admits he fears for Arsenal’s home form after Newcastle inflicted his side’s second defeat at the Emirates in four games, dealing the 10-man Gunners’ Premier League title hopes a shuddering blow.
Wenger’s team failed to recover from Andy Carroll’s towering header on the stroke of half-time, meaning Newcastle avenged their recent Carling Cup thrashing and, like West Brom a few weeks ago, left north London with three points.
Two home league defeats were all that Arsenal suffered throughout last season, and this year’s losses have been no flukes: Wenger’s concern has been deepened by the laboured manner of victories against Birmingham and West Ham.
“Home form is a concern because against Birmingham and West Ham they were struggling wins,” he said. “Everybody comes here and plays very tight. When you score the first goal it is alright because teams have to come out, but as long as they can sit deep we have a problem to play through when we are not on full power.”
Wenger threw on three forwards, Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and the barely-fit Robin van Persie, in search of an equaliser, but still lacked the ingenuity to unlock a determined Magpies defence.
The closest Arsenal came to scoring was when the fitful Theo Walcott hammered the bar early in the second half, while Samir Nasri drew a superb tip over from goalkeeper Tim Krul late in the opening period.
Gunners captain Cesc Fabregas also struck the woodwork with a free-kick that nicked off the wall, but otherwise looked far from fit, struggling to keep up and giving the ball away with uncharacteristic regularity.
To cap matters, defender Laurent Koscielny was shown a straight red card for bringing down Nile Ranger in injury time. It all added to a weekend to forget for Wenger, who has also had to contend with tabloid headlines about his private life.
Carroll, whose alleged off-field behaviour has also made the front pages, showed no sign of mental strain as he led the line tirelessly in front of England boss Fabio Capello. His reward came when he beat Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to Joey Barton’s lofted free-kick.