Xhaka’s dark arts and Saudi protest banner – moments missed in Newcastle’s Arsenal defeat

Newcastle United battled hard but were ruthlessly punished by title chasers Arsenal in a rare defeat at St James’ Park. Martin Odegaard’s opener against the run of play, and Fabian Schar’s own-goal 19 minutes’ from time sealed a 2-0 victory for the Gunners on Sunday afternoon.

The Magpies saw an early penalty appeal overturned after a VAR review, with Odegaard then beating Nick Pope from distance minutes later. It was a match of missed chances for the hosts, with Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak both seeing efforts bounce back off the post before Schar’s own-goal all but killed the contest.

The Magpies remain three points clear of Liverpool with one game in hand ahead of Saturday’s trip to face Sam Allardyce’s Leeds United. Here are the moments you may have missed from a rare home defeat for Newcastle.

READ MORE: Fuming Newcastle, ‘cheating’ Arsenal taunt and transfer target gets stadium glimpse – 5 things

Saudi banner

It was a top-of-the-table showdown at St James’ Park, and perhaps the perfect opportunity for protestors to issue a fresh statement against Newcastle’s controversial owners. A banner reading ‘Free all Saudi prisoners’ was flown above the stadium and across the Tyneside skyline.

The banner also referred to SANAD Organisation, which stands for Standing Against Nefarious and Arbitrary Detentions. The body describe their own role as monitoring ‘human rights violations and exposes them to human rights bodies and media, civil and political institutions around the world’.

Despite the title race and the top-four permutations, it was the latest reminder of the questions that still surround Newcastle and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and ones that will continue to do so.

Xhaka’s dark arts

It was perhaps the ultimate compliment to Newcastle that Arsenal came to St James’ Park with a clear intent to frustrate. Having complained about the Magpies’ game-management in the reverse fixture in January, Arteta’s side sought to delay and antagonise from the very first whistle.

Aaron Ramsdale was jeered after only three minutes for taking his time over a goal-kick. Bukayo Saka was one of several players to seemingly milk each and every knock, despite no suggestion a substitution or medical assistance would be imminent.

However, it was Granit Xhaka who best epitomised these so-called ‘dark arts’. The Switzerland international at times looked close to the edge, with an exchange of words with Callum Wilson before the break threatening to boil over. There were also confrontations with Joelinton and international team-mate Schar, but the red mist perhaps many expected never descended.

It must be said that there were also two vital sliding blocks from Xhaka which helped keep the Gunners ahead, with particular praise due for the way he denied former team-mate Joe Willock a clearcut opening. However, Xhaka’s role away from these defensive duties proves how Arteta’s side were prepared to go to the limits and beyond to keep their faint title hopes alive.

Trippier milestone

Newcastle’s stand-in skipper believed it was match of ‘fine margins’, and urged the setback not to derail the Magpies ahead of their final four fixtures. Eddie Howe’s side still hold a three-point advantage over Liverpool, with a game in hand on the Reds.

Trippier’s sustained excellence in a black-and-white shirt this season comes as no surprise, with the right-back starring in the division’s best defence. However, it is his offensive output which most often reaches the headlines and the 32-year-old reached another remarkable milestone on Sunday.

Trippier became the first player in England’s top-five divisions to create 100 chances in the league this season. With six assists already to his name in the Premier League, the right-back has surpassed all expectations in an offensive capacity.


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