Nobody should feel surprised Newcastle were the first visitors to escape the Emirates with as much as a point this season. They put on a masterclass in frustration against a toothless Arsenal who struggled to fashion opportunities, turning long stretches into exhibitions of niggle that made the contest curiously engaging. Perhaps it is no surprise two sides with only a defeat each to their name could not find a victor and the outcome does not leave a huge dent in Arsenal’s title hopes, even if the chance to move 10 points clear had loomed. Newcastle’s hopes of shooting for the summit are remote but they look supremely set for a concerted tilt at the Champions League spots.
In August the prospect of this clash bearing serious title implications for both sides would barely have registered. But they are here on merit and a fast, open start showed why. Most of the running came from Arsenal, because it always does these days, and they created three presentable openings in the first 10 minutes.
Everything Martin Ødegaard touches turns to silk these days so it was slightly surprising to see him wayward with a volley from 15 yards, although it was no more than a half-chance. Moments later Bukayo Saka destroyed Dan Burn with a thrilling run, tearing around the outside and scooting along the byline. Nick Pope blocked the resulting shot from an angle but the home side soon came again, Saka leading another break which led to Granit Xhaka running out of space to squeeze past Pope.
Newcastle needed to ride the early storm. They had, like their opponents, lost only once all season so could be backed to find a foothold and discovered one of sorts. You have to price in a few close calls after Arsenal race from the blocks and Eddie Howe clearly had: they began popping the ball around and, even if a weak Callum Wilson shot to Aaron Ramsdale was the sum of their attacking endeavours, by the half-hour they had successfully stayed in the game.
Their propensity for leaving a foot in helped: Bruno Guimarães and Wilson were booked for doing so in quick succession and, much to Mikel Arteta’s annoyance, Joelinton avoided similar punishment for a third such offence. Breaking Arsenal’s flow seemed an essential part of the plan and it was bearing fruit; Gabriel Magalhães looped a header not far wide from Ødegaard’s free-kick but a scrap had developed, the Emirates crowd howling when Miguel Almirón chased back to rob Xhaka before taking too much of the man.
They were incensed, too, when Ødegaard received a yellow card for hauling back a breaking Guimarães but could not complain when Xhaka dived in woefully late on Fabian Schär. That was the half’s fifth booking and mini flashpoints were stacking up, Newcastle denied the benefit from one when a penalty check for Burn’s tumble in the box came to nothing. By the interval they could reflect that they had succeeded in completely disrupting Arsenal’s fluency, and they could even have gone ahead when Joelinton miscued a far-post header on the whistle.
Four minutes after the restart Wilson harried Ramsdale into a mistake but Almirón could not find the space to capitalise. Within seconds the Paraguayan, having reached the right byline, fizzed a centre inches beyond his colleague and Arsenal, used to re-emerging at speed too, had yet to regain any momentum. Ødegaard spooned wildly over after crisp work from Xhaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko; Joelinton and Almirón quickly added themselves to Andrew Madley’s book of misdemeanours and, while still snarly and frayed, proceedings were deliciously tense.
Howe and his assistant, Jason Tindall, applauded 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, thwarted superbly in covering for the floundering Burn.
Joelinton seemed fortunate to avoid investigation for an arm across Saka’s face as the tension showed little sign of cooling. Gabriel Martinelli thought he had escaped down the left but Schär reacted smartly. Then the Brazilian flashed a header across goal from a corner; the pressure was now more or less constant and there was the sense that something would eventually fall Arsenal’s way. When it did, Eddie Nketiah was denied by the imposing Pope; Newcastle had what they came for.