No one should be surprised that Newcastle were the first visitors to escape the Emirates with so many points this season. They staged a masterclass of frustration against a toothless Arsenal who struggled to create chances, turning long spells into niggle displays that made the contest oddly engaging. It is perhaps unsurprising that two teams with only one defeat to their name could not find a winner and the result does not leave a huge dent in Arsenal’s title hopes, even if the chance of to move 10 points ahead had presented itself. Newcastle’s hopes of shooting for the top are remote, but they look extremely set for a concerted tilt on the Champions League spots.
In August, the prospect of this clash carrying serious title implications for both sides would hardly have been saved. But they are here on merit and a quick and open start showed why. Most of the runs came from Arsenal, as they always do these days, and they created three presentable openers in the opening 10 minutes.
Everything Martin Ødegaard touches turns to silk these days, so it was slightly surprising to see him wayward with a 15-yard volley, even if it was no more than half a chance. Moments later, Bukayo Saka destroyed Dan Burn with a thrilling run, tearing the outside and spinning down the line. Nick Pope blocked the resulting shot from an angle but the home side quickly came back, Saka leading another break which resulted in Granit Xhaka running out of space to get past Pope.
Newcastle needed to ride out the early storm. They had, like their opponents, only lost once all season, so they could be backed to find a foothold and somehow discover one. You have to assess a few close calls after Arsenal’s run from the blocks and Eddie Howe had clearly done it: they started to pop the ball and, although a weak shot from Callum Wilson on Aaron Ramsdale was the sum of their attacking efforts, at the half-hour mark they had managed to stay in the game.
Their propensity for leaving a foot helped: Bruno Guimarães and Wilson were booked for doing so in quick succession and, much to Mikel Arteta’s chagrin, Joelinton avoided a similar punishment for a third such offense. Breaking the flow of Arsenal seemed like a vital part of the plan and it was paying off. Gabriel Magalhães headed in not far from Ødegaard’s free-kick but a fight had developed, the Emirates crowd screaming when Miguel Almirón returned to steal Xhaka before taking too much of the man.
They were also furious when Ødegaard received a yellow card for dismissing a faltering Guimarães, but could not complain when Xhaka dove terribly late on Fabian Schär. It was the fifth booking of the half and the mini flash points were piling up, Newcastle denied the benefit when a penalty check for Burn’s fall in the box came to nothing. In the meantime, they might think they had succeeded in completely disrupting Arsenal’s flow, and they might even have gone ahead when Joelinton missed a long header on the whistle.
Four minutes into the restart, Wilson harassed Ramsdale in an error but Almirón couldn’t find the space to capitalize. Within seconds, the Paraguayan, having reached the straight line, spun a few centimeters beyond his colleague and Arsenal, accustomed to reappearing at high speed as well, had yet to regain momentum. Ødegaard went wild after crisp work from Xhaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko; Joelinton and Almirón quickly added themselves to Andrew Madley’s book of offenses and, although still surly and frayed, the proceedings were delightfully tense.
Howe and his assistant, Jason Tindall, cheered vigorously as another Arsenal pass floated behind. An inconsequential knock to Saka allowed Arteta to deliver an ad hoc coaching session; Saka responded with a run that Joelinton, not for the first time, superbly countered by covering the floundering Burn.
Joelinton looked lucky to avoid an investigation for an arm to Saka’s face as the strain showed little sign of cooling. Gabriel Martinelli thought he had escaped down the left but Schär reacted intelligently. Then the Brazilian sent a header through the goal from a corner; the pressure was now more or less constant and there was a feeling that something would eventually fall Arsenal’s way. When it did, Eddie Nketiah was turned down by the imposing pope; Newcastle had what they came for.