Newcastle claim valuable point, but weaknesses are obvious
Newcastle United 0 Arsenal 0 IN the final stages of Saturday's goalless draw at Gallowgate, Arsenal's travelling supporters delivered their verdict on Arsene Wenger's summer transfer dealings. Spend some ******* money, they urged. With two weeks and two days to the closure of the transfer window, their pleadings could have been directed at either of the clubs involved. Given the chaos that characterised their pre-season period, Newcastle can be satisfied with their opening-day effort. They were rarely troubled by an Arsenal side who are still regarded as one of the most potent attacking units in the Premier League, and extended their run to five successive home games unbeaten against members of the established 'Big Four'. Yet there were enough alarming signals to highlight the fragility of the position they currently find themselves in following the departure of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique since January. I'd like to think that by the time we play Sunderland (on Saturday), we'll have a left-back in place and hopefully a striker as well, said Newcastle boss Alan Pardew. For all that this weekend's display contained a number of positives, that is surely a minimum requirement. Attack first, and the Magpies were every bit as impotent as it was feared they might be without Carroll and Nolan, who contributed 23 goals between them last season. They failed to record a single shot on target all game, indeed their only attempts of any description were a Jonas Gutierrez volley that flew well wide in the first half and a second-half effort from Danny Simpson that never looked like finding the target. Demba Ba made his competitive debut alongside Shola Ameobi, but was substituted at half-time after neither player threatened to hold up the ball or break beyond the Arsenal back four. A quicker, more energetic striker is clearly required, but a series of meetings between Pardew and the Newcastle hierarchy last week ended without a clear plan of action. Attention appears to have switched back to the domestic market after the Magpies were priced out of a move for Ajax's Miralem Sulejmani, with the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Hugo Rodallega coming under consideration. However, Pardew did not feel Saturday's listless attacking display highlighted the need for urgent action. I don't think it's fair to draw any conclusions about the striker situation from that, he said. Neither of the strikers got much quality ball to deal with, especially in the first half. I thought Shola did well and Demba is the sort of player who wants balls in the box, that's what he's best at. Pardew was right to flag up a lack of creativity, as that is another issue Newcastle will have to wrestle with unless they address it in the transfer market before the end of the month. It would be wrong to make too many judgements about Yohan Cabaye from just one game, but while the Frenchman is undoubtedly technically proficient, it remains to be seen whether he is capable of breaking beyond Cheik Tiote to join in an attack. There was precious little sign of that on Saturday. Left-back is the other major cause for concern, and while Ryan Taylor handled himself fairly well against first Gervinho and then substitute Theo Walcott, there were enough signs of danger to confirm the need for a direct replacement for Enrique. PSV Eindhoven's Erik Pieters, who is currently mourning the death of his grandmother, remains the leading target, although disagreements over both a fee and the level of agent payment required have forced Newcastle to re-examine a former target, Toulouse defender Cheik M'Bengue. In fairness to Newcastle, the overall standard of their defending at the weekend was very high, and the performances of both Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini were the main positives to emerge from a game that never threatened to live up to the previous season's 4-4 draw. Leaving aside Joey Barton's altercation with Gervinho, and the subsequent red card, the most notable aspect was the ease with which Coloccini neutered the attacking threat of Robin van Persie. Arsenal's only first-half effort of note was a Laurent Koscielny header that was comfortably cleared off the line by Simpson, and Krul's only real save was a routine 64th-minute stop from a low strike from Walcott. We dealt with them really well, said Krul. They only had one proper shot on goal and I thought we defended superbly. Ryan Taylor did well at left-back, even though it is not his natural position, and both Colo and Steven Taylor did brilliantly. It's nice to start with a clean sheet, and it means more when it is against Arsenal. After a three-way summer tussle, Krul was handed the goalkeeper's jersey, and the Dutchman acquitted himself well on what, admittedly, was a comfortable outing. He will retain his starting spot for the foreseeable future, but while a fit Steve Harper was not even in the matchday squad at the weekend, it remains possible that Saturday's number two, Fraser Forster, will once again find himself leaving Tyneside on loan. The manager had a little word with me at the start of the week and said, 'Train well this week and we will see what happens', said Krul. I think he let the others know first before he told me that I was starting. He told me eventually though and said, 'Right, it is now up to you to cement that shirt'. Hopefully, this is the first stage of doing that. It is a big vote of confidence.
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