Newcastle United dashed Arsenal’s top four hopes with a 2-0 win at St James’ Park last season. While Arsenal got revenge for that damaging defeat, when the score line was reversed at the same stadium on Sunday, Newcastle’s Champions League hopes remain in their hands with four games to go.
You could tell as much at full-time. It was rather telling that thousands of Newcastle supporters stayed behind to clap their side off as they repeatedly chanted: “Eddie Howe’s black and white army”. Still three points clear of Liverpool, with a game in hand, there was no danger of a loss of perspective on the terraces as Newcastle were beaten by a talented side going for the title.
Also, as effective as Arsenal were, Newcastle were hardly embarrassed in a niggly contest settled by a fine first-half strike by Martin Odegaard and a late own goal by Fabian Schar. Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak both hit the post while Joe Willock and Fabian Schar forced Aaron Ramsdale into important stops on an afternoon Newcastle also had a penalty award overturned by VAR. Yet, crucially, Newcastle did not take those opportunities and a side like Arsenal are going to punish you for that.
That is just what Martin Odegaard did in the 14th minute against the run of play. Newcastle had made a blistering start at a febrile St James’ Park, but Odegaard had the time and space he needed to take a touch and pick out the bottom corner from 25 yards out to silence the stadium.
While it was a well-struck effort, Newcastle were not at their watertight best at the back and it was a similar story for Arsenal’s killer second in the 71st minute. This time, the visitors took Newcastle apart on the break and Fabian Schar hooked Gabriel Martinelli’s cross into his own net. Arsenal were never going to let that lead slip.
Mikel Arteta, after all, had warned beforehand: “We will try to play the game that we want and they want a very different game.” Albeit not in the way you expected.
Whereas it was Newcastle who got under Arsenal’s skin in January’s reverse fixture at the Emirates, this time, it was the Gunners who looked to frustrate the Magpies and run down the clock from the moment Aaron Ramsdale, eventually, took his first goal kick to deafening boos on Sunday. That set the tone for a feisty game and Ramsdale and Dan Burn were involved in a heated exchange as they approached the tunnel at half-time.
A combined 11 minutes of stoppage time were ultimately added on, all told, and it was easy to see why, whether it was Granit Xhaka repeatedly going down to receive treatment, Martin Odegaard holding onto the ball at one point when Newcastle were awarded a free-kick or Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka taking their time to leave the field when they were brought off late on. In a way, it was the ultimate compliment. For all the complaints Newcastle have received from rival managers about game management, here was one of league’s best sides resorting to similar tactics, as Howe hit back at the Magpies’ critics.
“I’m still not sure on the ball in play argument against us because I know the stats might say one thing, but if you look at the team and how we actually play, we’re very front foot,” Howe told reporters. “We want quick restarts. We want the ball in play, whether we are home or away, so sometimes these things happen.
“Every team will game manage to a certain degree, especially away from home and dependent on the score line. That’s always been in football and always will be.”
These were tactics that were absent when Arsenal rocked up at St James’ 356 days earlier. That was a night a furious Mikel Arteta told his players ‘they were 10,000 times better than us’. The performance was so devastating that, a year on, Granit Xhaka was the first to recognise ‘they destroyed us’. As Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles put it: “We battered them and that will be in the back of their minds.”
This was always going to be a different game, but Arteta showed his players footage from the dressing room that night before they left the team hotel to make their way to St James’ for the rematch. They certainly needed no reminding of what lay in store at a rocking St James’ as Wor Flags appealed to supporters to #BringYourScarf for the first time in the Premier League this season.
In truth, Howe had given the crowd a lift before a scarf was even swung by unleashing Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak from the off for the first time. No wonder the fans were still chanting even while ‘God Save the King’ was played before kick-off to mark the coronation.
The players soon fed off that noise and Jacob Murphy cracked the post inside a couple of minutes as Newcastle raced out of the blocks. Newcastle did not let up and the Magpies were awarded a penalty just a few minutes later when Bruno Guimaraes’ shot struck the arm of Jakub Kiwior. However, following a lengthy VAR check, referee Chris Kavanagh ruled that the ball hit the Arsenal defender’s thigh before it struck his arm.
There was still so much time left, but it felt like a big moment – and Arsenal were soon in front. There was less than a quarter of the hour on the clock when Martin Odegaard had the split second he needed to size up his effort and pick out the bottom corner from distance after Newcastle were too slow to react and close him down.
Newcastle looked shell-shocked and Arsenal smelt blood. There were 21 minutes on the clock when Pope made a double save to deny Gabriel Martinelli and Odegaard from close range. Then, just a few minutes later, Pope kept out Bukayo Saka’s venomous effort with his chest.
As obvious as it sounds, the next goal was going to be crucial and, having survived a period of heavy pressure, Newcastle had a great chance to equalise before the half-hour mark. Wilson laid the ball off to Joe Willock, but the midfielder’s effort was straight at the legs of Aaron Ramsdale.
It proved to be Newcastle’s best chance of the half and it was Arsenal who came close to doubling their advantage right before the break when Pope denied Odegaard once again. Newcastle needed half-time to regroup and that is just what the hosts did.
There were 48 minutes played when Isak’s header rattled the post from Murphy’s cross before Ramsdale clawed away Fabian Schar’s header just a minute later. The score, somehow, was still level yet those chances only seemed to remind Arsenal how slender their lead was and it was Martinelli’s turn to hit the woodwork in the 51st minute with a curling effort.
Howe threw on Miguel Almiron for Jacob Murphy midway through the second half as Newcastle went in search of an equaliser. However, as the hosts piled forward, Arsenal landed a killer blow in the 71st minute. Martinelli raced to the byline and toyed with Botman before the Brazilian’s cross was turned in by Schar. It was game over, but Newcastle’s top four hopes? They are still alive.
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