This week’s Premier League Archive looks back on the thrilling 4-4 draw between Arsenal and Newcastle United.
There was the thrilling FA Cup tie that Tottenham Hotspur won having been 3-0 down to Manchester City at half-time in 2004. There was the heroic comeback from the same half-time scoreline in Istanbul for Liverpool a year later. But never, in the history of the Premier League, had a side recovered from a deficit of four goals.
Newcastle’s top scorer and main goalscoring outlet Andy Carroll had departed for Liverpool the previous week, and his replacement arrived in the form of a freebie – Shefki Kuqi. Arsenal had come into a vain period of form, having lost just twice since Carroll’s header snatched the Geordies a surprising three points at the Emirates in early November. Considering all of these factors, this is what makes what happened that day even more alien and extraordinary.
The morale on Tyneside had suffered – their disdain for owner Mike Ashley had intensified following not just the sacking of popular boss Chris Hughton in December, but then the subsequent sale of their star player on transfer deadline day. With an English spine coursing through the side, they stood as a very different starting XI as the French contingent that plays its’ football at St. James’ nowadays. This was a plucky recently-promoted side, who were on course for survival, but whose supporters were starting to mumble in disagreement once more. In Carroll’s place, was Leon Best, who had taken a year for the striker to find the back of the net for the Tyneside club. Despite the fact that he had notched a hat-trick against bottom club West Ham in January, supporters remained unconvinced and rightfully so.
Arsenal, on the other hand, were enjoying a solid, if unspectacular season. Painful defeats had been inflicted upon them by Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United already, but with striker Robin van Persie back to full fitness, the Gunners were ready to mount a late title surge. Packed with pace and power throughout the ranks, and marshalled by the talismanic Cesc Fabregas in midfield, this was an Arsenal side who would push Barcelona all the way in their upcoming Champions League tie.
So, it came as no real surprise when they raced into an early lead, as wideman Theo Walcott latched onto a pass after 44 seconds, before dispatching past the despairing Steve Harper. 1-0 down after less than a minute – at least the Magpies had 89 more to snatch an equaliser. However, before they even had time to entertain that thought, they were 2-0 down, as centre-back Johan Djourou powered home a header two minutes later. Suddenly, alarm bells were ringing on Tyneside. It was heads-in-hands time, as the players looked around, devoid of inspiration, and seemingly at a loss as to explain their abysmal start. At this stage, it already seemed like a damage limitation job, and the game wasn’t even five minutes old. Ruthless as ever, the Gunners added a third five minutes later, as van Persie turned the ball past Harper, to jeers and derision from the Geordie supporters. They were trapped in a nightmare – one that seemingly would never end, as van Persie stooped to head a fourth into the Newcastle net after 26 minutes.
The Newcastle backline had been well and truly ripped apart, torn asunder by the penetrative pace of Walcott and the ruthless finishing instincts of the Dutchman. Boos rained down from the stands, the players lambasted for their pathetic showing. Some supporters stormed out of the stadium, refusing to witness any more of their side’s feeble efforts. Once the half-time whistle sounded, the contrast in mood was understandable. The black and white shirted players, heads bowed in shame, trudged off the turf, past the onlooking glare of Alan Pardew, while the Arsenal players patted each other on the back, for what was turning out to be an easy three points to take back to the capital.
Nobody will ever know what Alan Pardew said to rally his troops. Maybe he told them that they had let themselves down, and were dragging the club’s reputation to shame with a showing such as the one he had just witnessed from his dugout. Maybe he chose the inspiring pep-talk routine instead, ala Kevin Keegan. Maybe he simply let the senior players such as Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan say their part, in the hopes of adding a bit of impetus into the side. Whatever happened, something clicked in that dressingroom, as they ran out for a second half not one of those players will ever forget.
Barton is similar to the likes of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, in that if a player is going to be involved in controversy, nine times out of ten they are going to be in the thick of it. That is exactly what happened when he became involved in a tussle with Abou Diaby, which resulted in the Frenchman being given his marching orders for grabbing the Scouser by the neck. Barely a murmur still could be heard on Tyneside.
Minutes later, Best was clumsily hauled down by Laurent Koscielny, which resulted in a penalty that Barton calmly dispatched. An ironic cheer sounded throughout the ground – there was 20 minutes to go, and Newcastle had their consolation goal. It wasn’t until Leon Best buried the ball into the back of the net eight minutes later that the Toon faithful began to gain a bit of belief that there might be an outside chance of a result. The noise volume began to raise, as Newcastle poured forward searching for the third goal that would have really tested Arsenal’s resolve. It duly arrived, when Koscielny upended Mike Williamson in the box, before Barton crashed it home. Seven minutes of normal time remained – they couldn’t. Could they?
Newcastle poured forward in search of that equaliser they craved, before winning a free-kick to the right-hand side of the box, which was subsequently flooded with black and white shirts. Barton swung in the set-piece, which was duly headed away to the edge of the box. What happened next will be remembered as something of a blur to most of the supporters who were in that stadium. Not renowned for his goalscoring prowess, Cheick Tiote swung his left peg at the ball, which seemed to take an age as it soared through the air before nestling in the bottom corner of Szcesny’s net. Instantly, he wheeled away in delight, arms waving above his head like cheesestrings, before collapsing to the turf, in a moment of pure joy and relief. 4-4. Newcastle United had their result. It may not have been the three points, but for what it represented, and the lengths they went to achieve it, it will be remembered as so much more.
Pundit Arena, Michael Ramsay.