Premier League leaders Arsenal slugged out a bruising 0-0 draw with Newcastle on Tuesday that underlined why both sides have exceeded expectations this season.
A ferociously contested clash featuring bookings galore ended in stalemate at the Emirates Stadium.
But Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta and his Newcastle counterpart Eddie Howe will take heart from the way their teams refused to give an inch against in-form opposition.
Arsenal inevitably felt a touch of frustration at missing the chance to move 10 points clear of second placed Manchester City ahead of the champions’ game in hand at Chelsea on Thursday.
It was the first time in six games — and only the second in their last 11 — that Arsenal failed to take maximum points.
Yet there was little to fault Arsenal for in a high-octane performance that could easily have yielded yet another impressive victory in a season that has defied all expectations.
Intriguingly, Arsenal have testing clashes with Tottenham and Manchester United looming in their next two league games.
For Arsenal to be in control of the title race at the start of 2023 is remarkable enough after 19 years without winning the Premier League.
Yet the sight of Newcastle more than holding their own against the leaders is arguably even more unexpected.
Third-placed Newcastle, unbeaten in their last 12 league games, consolidated their place in the top four with a sixth consecutive clean-sheet in all competitions.
The Magpies have made outstanding progress under boss Eddie Howe and the club’s Saudi-backed ownership group.
Becoming the first team to stop Arsenal winning at home in the league this season was a notable effort, especially since they also became the first club to keep the Gunners off the scoresheet in the league since May.
After years in the doldrums, Newcastle’s fanatical ‘Toon Army’ supporters were dreaming of reaching the Champions League as they raucously celebrated the point in one corner of the Emirates Stadium.
If this was a measuring stick game for Newcastle, then Arsenal started with the kind of pace and purpose that threatened to make it an unflattering comparison for the visitors.
Newcastle weather the storm
With seven goals in 15 league games this season, Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard would have fancied himself with an early chance inside the Newcastle area, but the Dane’s volley whistled over.
Bukayo Saka skipped away from Joelinton for a shot that was saved by Nick Pope, who watched with relief moments later as Granit Xhaka fired into the side-netting after another incisive Arsenal raid.
On a rain-lashed night in north London, Newcastle gradually recovered from that stormy opening, earning a foothold in the game as Callum Wilson tested Aaron Ramsdale from the edge of the area.
Odegaard tried to sneak a near-post effort past Pope but his shot was blocked before it could test the keeper.
Arteta engaged in some verbal sparring with the Newcastle coaching staff as a fiercely-fought contest heated up with a rash of bookings.
The fired-up Spaniard was on his feet again in anticipation of a goal celebration when Gabriel reached Odegaard’s free-kick, but the defender’s header bounced inches wide.
Newcastle midfielder Joelinton should brought a frantic first half to a dramatic conclusion when he stooped for a far-post header that flashed just over.
Ramsdale almost gifted Newcastle a goal immediately after the interval when he carelessly surrendered possession inside his own area, but Wilson couldn’t quite reach Kieran Trippier’s ensuing cross.
Arsenal dominated after that narrow escape without being able to land the knockout blow.
Gabriel Martinelli went close with a header that looped narrowly wide from Odegaard’s corner.
Eddie Nketiah had an even better chance in the 88th minute but Pope kept out the striker’s low strike to ensure the points were shared.
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