Premier League - Gervinho off on debut as Arsenal held
With a quarter of an hour left the striker, bought for £12 million from Lille and Arsenal’s only major summer signing so far, was shown a straight red card for a slap on Joey Barton, who had become incensed with the Ivorian after he took a blatant dive in the box.
Barton was hardly blameless - he sparked the confrontation by hauling Gervinho to his feet to remonstrate with him following the dive, and made a meal of what was ultimately light contact - but Arsene Wenger will now have to do without his new man for three games, with a violent conduct charge sure to follow.
It was not the only incident involving Barton, who was certainly the victim earlier in the half when Alex Song escaped with only a yellow card for a nasty stamp on the prostrate Newcastle midfielder that referee Peter Walton missed.
The game itself was somewhat of a non-event: most tellingly Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and were omitted from the Arsenal squad ahead of proposed transfers to Barcelona and Manchester City, while for Toon the talking point was Barton’s presence, an unlikely starter given that two weeks ago he was offered a free transfer and slapped with a fine following a series of rogue tweets.
As expected the Gunners’ passing was pretty, but the final ball largely non-existent, with Gervinho - promising in pre season - guilt of wasteful passing after getting into several good positions.
Indeed, Newcastle keeper Tim Krul barely had a save to make with Arsenal’s best first-half chances an interception by Danny Simpson from Andrei Arshavin’s low cross and a clearance off the line by Cheick Tote after a flap by the Dutch shot-stopper.
Toon largely looked for the counter-attack, with a volley wide by Jonas Gutierrez their only real contribution to a sluggish first half.
The second period started similarly, with the best effort a swift, curling free-kick from Robin van Persie that flew just over.
Then the fireworks were unleashed as the reality TV show that is Joseph Barton continued. Just before the hour mark he flew in with a strong but basically fair challenge on Song, who lost his cool and stamped on the lower leg of his opponent as he lay prone underneath.
Walton missed it, showing a yellow card to the Cameroonian on his assistant’s advice, but an enraged Barton questioned the fourth official about possible repercussions.
Back to the football, Yohan Cabaye fluffed his lines when put through by an outrageous backheel from the surprisingly slick Gabriel Obertan, while down the other end substitute Theo Walcott fired weakly at Krul when put in by Aaron Ramsey.
Then came the second flashpoint of the match. On 75 minutes Gervinho did what he had done all game, using clever movement and his searing pace to race into the box from wide: in keeping with his evening’s work, he then messed up his attempted cut back, opting to dive over Simpson when he realised the shot was probably not on.
Barton was incensed, and hauled the striker to his feet: a scuffle ensued, players from both sides rushed in and what appeared to be a punch from Gervinho saw Barton fall to the turf clutching his face.
The replays showed that, while Gervinho had to walk for raising his arms, Barton made a meal of what was little more than a tickle, meaning he could in theory have been sent off himself for two consecutive bookable offences.
While his controversial past and present make it likely he will be slaughtered by Arsenal fans and Barton-haters alike, it was an almost Latin American piece of theatre that would no doubt enamour him to La Liga coaches should he still wish to move abroad.
It knocked the stuffing out of Arsenal though, who withdrew into defence in the later stages, with Newcastle closest to fashioning a winner: it would have been some show-stopper if Barton’s spectacular half-volley had gone in, while man-of-the-match Steven Taylor was denied an injury-time header from a majestic block by the impressive Laurent Koscielny.
Both sets of players were all smiles at the end, Barton and Song embracing after their previous dalliance, but the focus now shifts to what both clubs will do to improve squads left short by recent - and impending - sales.