Newcastle masterclass exposes Arsenal title race shortcomings as Mikel Arteta boils over

Newcastle masterclass exposes Arsenal title race shortcomings as Mikel Arteta boils over

A night of frustration for Arsenal offered a reminder of what life is like as Premier League leaders.

Newcastle came to spoil the party and succeeded, thanks to a masterclass in disciplined and dogged defending.

Their tactics created an ill-tempered and stop-start game. By the end there had been 26 fouls and nine yellow cards, but no goals.

No one summed up Arsenal’s frustration more than head coach Mikel Arteta, as his side could only extend their lead at the top to eight points, instead of 10.

Mikel Arteta screamed and shouted on the touchline. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Mikel Arteta screamed and shouted on the touchline. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

During the game, Arteta went back and forth with the fourth official over a number of decisions, in particular two penalty shouts that he later called “scandalous”. One was for a shirt pull by Dan Burn on Gabriel, the other when a cross hit the arm of Jacob Murphy.

Neither was given, and Arteta can rightly feel aggrieved that Burn’s tug went unpunished.

That pull on Gabriel came from a set-piece, and so did Arsenal’s best chances last night.

Gabriel and Gabriel Martinelli both flashed headers wide and, until Eddie Nketiah drew a great save from Nick Pope in the dying minutes, Arsenal created very little from open play.

“We lacked that spark in the final third to find the opening, to find the right moment, an extra pass and a little bit of finishing quality,” said Arteta. “We were really chasing it, we really wanted it. You could see that the team was putting everything in to take the three points.”

Last night was the first time this season that Arsenal have failed to score in the Premier League, and they need to get used to breaking down stubborn defences.

Arteta’s side are now genuine title contenders, and opposition teams will view them the same way, giving them the respect they deserve.

Newcastle are third, but came to Emirates Stadium happy to sit deep and frustrate.

It is a blueprint many others will look to follow, and cracking the code is a challenge Arteta must solve.

The Spaniard will be used to such a problem from his time working as an assistant at Manchester City. Beating a low-block defence is a weekly task for Pep Guardiola’s side, but Arsenal do not boast the same ammunition as their title rivals.

That much was clear last night as, chasing the three points, Arteta made just one change in the second half, when he took off Ben White for fellow right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu.

There was a lack of attacking options on the bench and, while dipping into the transfer market will help that, so would having Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Jesus fit.

Smith Rowe is not far away and should return this month. Jesus is a longer absentee, but Arsenal will be buoyed by the fact that the Brazil striker is now off crutches and visited the dressing room last night to speak to his team-mates.

Jesus and Smith Rowe are two players who could have provided the “spark” Arsenal were missing. However, even after this draw, it is not all doom and gloom.

Few teams will defend as well against Arsenal as Newcastle did last night and, even if they got just a point, the Gunners still extended their lead over City, who play at Chelsea tomorrow.

Indeed, the fact supporters felt so frustrated after last night’s draw sums up how far Arsenal have come this season. Winning has become the norm and even draws can feel like losses.

“We wanted to win it and we still have that in the guts that we did more than enough and we merit a different result, but we didn’t get it,” said Arteta. “When you can’t win, draw.”