Arsenal lose their cool as Newcastle test title credentials

LONDON — Newcastle United goalkeeper Nick Pope made a crucial 87th-minute save from Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah to ensure a 0-0 draw between the sides on Tuesday and end the Premier League leaders’ 100% winning run at the Emirates this season while keeping Eddie Howe’s side on course for Champions League qualification.

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In an evenly contested game, Arsenal created the better chances to win, but Newcastle displayed toughness and belief to come away with a point and maintain a record that has seen them lose just once in the league all season. And Pope’s save from Nketiah — the England keeper denied the Arsenal forward by saving with his outstretched left leg — was the key moment in the game.

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Rapid reaction

1. Arsenal run out of answers in first true test of title bid

Arsenal dropped points at the Emirates for the first time this season as Newcastle underlined their own credentials with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against the Premier League leaders. And while the result was a major positive for Newcastle that will increase belief that they can finish in the top four this season, it was a performance that left us with more questions than answers about Arsenal’s hopes of winning the title for the first time in 19 years.

Mikel Arteta’s side remain at the top of the table — Manchester City can reduce their lead to five points with a win at Chelsea on Thursday — but on a night when they enjoyed 67% of possession and created 17 chances, Arsenal were unable to make the breakthrough against Newcastle. They had plenty of flair on the pitch, but Arsenal didn’t know how to use it, and their inexperience shone through in this game.

And that will be a worry for Arteta, who knows that tough challenges lie ahead for his team. They will face teams who try to frustrate them and pack their defense with eight or nine men behind the ball, so need to come up with more solutions than merely expecting wingers Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli to make the difference all the time.

With two games to play against champions City and in-form Manchester United due at the Emirates on Jan. 22, Arsenal are going to have to find a Plan B to win games if they are to clinch the title. They are still in the driving seat, but it will be a long five months between now and the end of the season.

2. Arteta’s agitation isn’t helping his players

Arteta has done a remarkable job in his three years as Arsenal manager and could deliver their first Premier League title since 2004 this season, but he needs to calm down on the touchline to help make that happen. The Gunners boss is too fiery in his technical area, and during this game, his agitation transmitted to his players, who lost their heads for a period of the game and picked up three bookings in quick succession during the first half.

It is a delicate balancing act for every coach during a game. Arteta has to guide his players through the 90 minutes and motivate too, but he allowed himself to become too angry at times, with both the officials and Newcastle’s approach to the game.

At times, Arteta resembled both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho on the side of the pitch. There were elements of Manchester City boss Guardiola’s constant histrionics, but also the more malevolent, snarling parts of Mourinho’s touchline behaviour.

By acting as he did, Arteta not only transmits a negative image to his players, but he also does little to help win favor with the officials when he is in their face, as he was with the fourth official in the first half and again in second-half stoppage time when his side were pleading for a penalty. Arteta has brought some much needed passion back to Arsenal, on and off the pitch, but he now needs to tone it down and learn to balance it out with calmness.

3. Newcastle are genuine top-four contenders

This time last year, Newcastle were second-bottom of the Premier League and facing the real prospect of being the richest club in the Championship until Howe dramatically transformed their fortunes and steered the team away from relegation danger. The Magpies will be in another battle in the second half of this season, but this time, the challenge is to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.

And the reality is that they are genuinely in the shakeup to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2003-04, when they were eliminated in the third qualifying round by Partizan Belgrade.

Newcastle’s form this season is no fluke. Howe has made the team incredibly solid and organized, and he has turned Miguel Almiron and Joelinton into key first-team players when many doubted they were even good enough for the Premier League.

Against Arsenal, Newcastle were dogged and determined, but they were also unfazed by the challenge of taking on the league leaders, who had won seven out of seven home games in the Premier League prior to this clash. Howe has made some incredibly astute signings during his time at St James’ Park, including Kieran Trippier and Bruno Guimaraes, and there could be more during the January window.

Newcastle probably lack the depth and quality to win the title this season, but the top four is certainly within their capabilities, especially with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea all struggling to mount a challenge.

Player ratings

Arsenal: Aaron Ramsdale 6; Ben White 7, Gabriel 6, William Saliba 5, Alexander Zinchenko 7; Thomas Partey 6, Granit Xhaka 6, Martin Odegaard 7; Bukayo Saka 7, Eddie Nketiah 6, Gabriel Martinelli
Subs: Takehiro Tomiyasu 6

Newcastle: Nick Pope 8; Kieran Trippier 8, Sven Botman 9, Fabian Schar 7, Dan Burn 7; Sean Longstaff 6, Bruno Guimaraes 7, Joelinton 6; Joe Willock 6, Callum Wilson 6, Miguel Almiron 8
Subs: Chris Wood 6, Jacob Murphy 6, Allan Saint-Maximin 6

Best and worst performers

Best Performer: Sven Botman, Newcastle. The Newcastle centre-half was immense at the back for Howe’s team and it’s incredible to think that Louis van Gaal didn’t think he was good enough to take to the World Cup with the Netherlands.

Worst performer: William Saliba, Arsenal. The Arsenal defender has been praised for his performances this season, but he came out worst in his duel with Wilson and too often went to ground too easily.

After the match: What the players/managers said

Howe on Arsenal’s stoppage-time penalty appeal: “Obviously at that stage of the game you’re thinking, ‘God no, the lads have given so much’ and that would have been a travesty for us. I didn’t think it was a penalty but you just never know. I I’m delighted and me and Mikel are fine.”

Arteta on Arsenal’s penalty appeals: “There were two penalties. It’s very simple. I’m talking about what I’ve seen. It’s two scandalous penalties.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– Tuesday marked the first time this season that Arsenal have been shut out in Premier League play, and only the second time in all competitions.

– The last time that Newcastle conceded a goal in a competitive match was Nov. 6 against Southampton, a span that’s stretched 541 minutes.

Up next

Arsenal: The Gunners return to action on Monday in the third round of the FA Cup, when they visit Oxford United (3 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).

Newcastle: Newcastle, too, play next in the FA Cup, but their third-round tie takes place on Saturday against Sheffield Wednesday (1 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).

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