Arsenal 1, Newcastle United 3 Dec 19 2001

The Journal

Uri Geller will be last in line when those claiming influence over this pulsating top-three clash form a queue to take their credit.

The famed psychic had earlier called on Newcastle fans to pool their collective mental strength in a bid to will Bobby Robson’s men to victory on the night United sought to end a 30-game search for victory in London.

Ultimately Graham Poll, Ray Parlour, Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer all did more than their fair share to turn a fascinating fixture on its head and no amount of Mindpower was ever going to break a remarkable chain of events.

Arsenal looked certain winners when Robert Pires fired the home side ahead in a first half the home side dominated.

However, Ray Parlour’s contentious dismissal just before the break handed Robson’s side the initiative, and, when Andy O’Brien equalised early in the second half, Newcastle sensed victory.

Craig Bellamy followed Parlour down the tunnel and Arsene Wenger’s men attacked again, but two late goals by Alan Shearer, from the penalty spot, and substitute Laurent Robert sealed a famous capital win for United.

Initially it had seemed that the stage was set for Kieron Dyer to dominate Wednesday morning’s headlines and prompt a New Year approach from Soho Square following his recall to the visitors’ starting XI.

Instead Patrick Vieira left an early calling card on the 22-year-old and Ray Parlour followed up with a brace of equally uncompromising tackles. This, it became immediately evident, was to be no walk in the park for a player who spent much of the first half scampering after shadows and picking himself up from the pristine Highbury turf.

Robert may have been missing from Newcastle’s starting line-up but World Cup rival Pires returned for the home team to claim first blood in the battle of the Gallic wide men. Who could predict the former Paris St Germain star would ultimately win the war?

It was Pires who danced past the hopelessly outmaneuvered Dabizas in the fourth minute and, as United’s defence parted, the midfielder was dismayed to see his right-foot shot cannon off Andy O’Brien.

Minutes later neither of Robson’s centre halves were anywhere near Nwankwo Kanu as he directed a free header, from Sylvain

Wiltord’s cross, narrowly over Shay Given’s crossbar.

Newcastle were being torn apart by Arsene Wenger’s fast-breaking, free-spirited side and that infamous London hoodoo was already casting a wicked spell over the mesmerised Magpies.

Arsenal should have broken the deadlock in the 15th minute and it was only the inexplicable profligacy of Kanu which saved Given on this occasion. Thierry Henry crafted the chance when he tormented O’Brien down the Gunners’ left and teed up Parlour inside the area.

The England international, who scored a hat-trick when the two teams met in North London last season, took an eternity to pick his spot and Robbie Elliott combined with Dabizas to block a scrambled shot.

Still the ball broke to Kanu, but the Nigerian somehow scooped his effort over with Given’s defenders scattered like skittles.

Five minutes later Pires finally profited from the uncertainty of a defence so dazed and confused that Robson must have been tempted to revert to a 10-0-0 formation. Henry’s dazzling party trick on the right resulted in Ashley Cole collecting the ball on the left and the full-back spotted Pires all alone on the penalty spot.

This time there was no escape for Newcastle and Robert, huddled and grim-faced on the bench, must have cringed at the way his colleagues were allowing Pires to showcase his considerable talents.

Pires’ simple opener was the least the home side deserved but Wenger later cried foul when Parlour was booked for the second time in 20 minutes and duly dismissed with half-time beckoning.

Parlour’s first bookable offence was a relatively innocuous foul on Dabizas and yet, with one yellow card to his name, the experienced midfielder should have known better than to lunge wildly at Alan Shearer.

Even so, United’s felled skipper was one of 22 players stunned to see referee Graham Poll reach for his notebook again. The Tring official had set his hard-line stall out from the start and, while the home fans lambasted the now hated man in the middle, his decision did not warrant criticism. Until Parlour’s sending-off the home side had not looked like a team who had won just three of their previous seven Premiership games at Highbury and conceded 13 goals in the process, but suddenly chinks appeared in the Gunners’ depleted armoury.

As the second half gathered pace Bellamy, Dyer and Nolberto Solano, making his 100th Premiership appearance for United, were beginning to force the issue – and not before time.

Still the 10 men of Arsenal broke with worrying ease and Henry could have extended the home side’s lead before O’Brien blocked Pires’ 57th-minute strike.

Robson replaced the disappointing Solano and a disappointed Elliott with half-an-hour to play as Lomana Lua Lua and Robert entered the increasingly frenetic fray. Immediately Newcastle’s Zaire-born striker, stung by the match announcer’s disrespectful pronunciation of his surname, made his mark.

Lua Lua had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds when his right-wing corner picked out an unmarked O’Brien and the Irishman swooped to equalise at the near post.

Just as United looked set for a late charge, Bellamy became the second victim of Poll the disciplinarian as the referee showed a straight red card in response to the Welshman’s flailing right arm.

The former Norwich favourite clearly made contact with Cole but there appeared to be nothing malicious about the striker’s relatively tame hand-off.

With the game reaching a nailbiting conclusion Sol Campbell slid in to deny Robert in the Arsenal area and Poll, after initially hesitating, pointed to the spot. Shearer slotted home an 84th-minute penalty and suddenly that hoodoo was diminishing.

In added time Robert was sent clear again, this time by Lua Lua, and the Frenchman kept his cool to send his club soaring to the top of the table and fellow countryman Henry on an ugly collision course with the local constabulary. Hoodoo? Bring on White Hart Lane!


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