Battling Magpies shot down by Gunners

Posted by Marc Duffy

Olivier GiroudPA PhotosOlivier Giroud celebrates putting Arsenal ahead.

NEWCASTLE, England -- Newcastle United's final game of 2013 ended in an unfortunate 1-0 home defeat to title-chasing Arsenal.

Premier League games over the festive period are often either stretched goal-fests or subdued affairs offering little entertainment. This game was the latter.

The news that Arsenal would be travelling to Tyneside without key midfielders Aaron Ramsey and 42 million-pound man Mesut Ozil gave Newcastle more confidence that they could win -- something Alan Pardew has yet to do against Arsenal as Newcastle manager.

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Pardew opted to take a similar tactical approach to the game as he had in the win over Chelsea, with a defensive formation aiming to catch the opponents on the counterattack.

In the pre-match warm-up, the Arsenal team practised short, sharp passing while the Newcastle players floated 40- and 50-yard passes to each other. The match started in the same way, with Arsenal dominating possession and Newcastle launching long balls and some aimless clearances. At one point Tim Krul aimed for Loic Remy with a long ball while Remy was marked by the 6-foot-6 Per Mertesacker.

But Newcastle hassled and harried their way back into the game and enjoyed their own spell on the front foot as the first half progressed.

The crowd screamed for a penalty on 39 minutes as Moussa Sissoko was felled, but referee Lee Probert played on. In actual fact it should have been a Newcastle free kick on the edge of the Arsenal area.

Then it was Sissoko again who struck a stoppage-time shot at the Arsenal goal, producing a good save from Wojciech Szczesny.

Only two minutes of stoppage time were added despite Olivier Giroud's frequent rolling around on the grass waving his arms in feigned agony. They don't make big centre-forwards like they used to. Special mention also has to go to Theo Walcott, whose histrionics were comical.

For 20 minutes the second half was absolutely awful.

Sensing that the game was there for the taking, Pardew brought on Hatem Ben Arfa for Yoan Gouffran, but within a few minutes of the change, Arsenal were ahead.

Cheick Tiote was penalised for a foul on Santi Cazorla, although contact was minimal. Walcott floated a great free kick into the area and Giroud headed home while the Newcastle back four stood and watched.

Arsenal brought on Mikel Arteta for Kieran Gibbs, slotting Mathieu Flamini into left-back. This would've been a great opportunity to bring Ben Arfa into the game but instead Shola Ameobi was introduced and Newcastle went route one.

They threw a lot at Arsenal, including goalkeeper Tim Krul who went up for a couple of corners, but Szczesny was hardly tested.

The closest Newcastle came to equalising was when Szczesny blasted the ball into Remy and it rebounded just wide of the post. Ben Arfa hit the side netting too when a pass across the area might have been a better option.

So Arsenal won the game and will end 2013 as Premier League leaders. They definitely missed Ozil and Ramsey but showed resilience under a significant amount of pressure. These are the victories that league winners sneak.

As for Newcastle, this was their first home loss since Hull over three months ago. They matched Arsenal all over the park, which is very encouraging, but they desperately need to provide help to the struggling Remy. He is being asked to play as a lone front man and it does not suit him at all. A January upgrade on Shola Ameobi would be nice.

Arsene Wenger called Newcastle a "good team" in his post-match interview and also called it a "physical test" although it was his side who received all three of the game's yellow cards.

Newcastle head to West Brom on New Year's Day and squad rotation is needed.

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