One of the criticisms directed at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger during their current title drought has been the fact that they have shown an inability to win tough, gritty games that legitimate title contenders find ways to win. Another point was that they were unable to handle physical play and would shrink in such games.
In what has historically been a tough fixture, Arsenal traveled to St. James Park and won 1-0 over Newcastle United in that gritty game where a team is better off being pragmatic as opposed to sticking with its philosophy.
The first 45 minutes of the game saw Newcastle looking to choke out and stifle Arsenal’s attacking prowess in the midfield. They were successful as Arsenal found it tough to build up through the midfield and being unable to jump lines, Arsenal had very few chances in the first half.
The first minutes of the second half saw Arsenal slowly find a way to adjust to Newcastle’s tactical game plan. The team began getting the ball up to the likes of Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, who figured prominently in the game’s lone goal in the 65th minute as Giroud flicked in Walcott’s free kick for the game-winner.
What followed in the final 25 minutes was another test of how Arsenal and Wenger have shown tactical maturity this season as they clearly recognized that they would have to fight off a late Newcastle push. Whether it was a sinister tackle in the midfield to halt a counter, blasting the ball out of the box for a throw-in or just throwing one’s body to block the ball, Arsenal showed they can grind out a win.
In a season where Arsenal have answered many questions, the win over Newcastle answered several more as they are back at the top of the Premier League to start the new year.