Newcastle United served up an honest effort at St James’ Park but two uncharacteristic moments from Eddie Howe’s team cost them dear against Arsenal.
This was do or die for the Gunners as they looked to keep their fading Premier League title hopes alive on a day in which they were aided by the rub of the green – and a questionable VAR incident which led to referee Chris Kavanagh booed roundly off the hallowed turf at St Jamses’ Park. On another day Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak would get better luck off the woodwork and Jakub Kiwior may not have escaped punishment during a first half penalty incident.
Yet Howe will definitely be undergoing a training ground review of the goals in each half which handed Arsenal three points. The Magpies made a positive start to the clash with Joe Willock breaking down the left and the ball eventually dropping to Jacob Murphy but his effort struck the bottom of the post in the first minute and nobody could find the finish on the follow up.
Moments later Alexander Isak had a shot blocked before Newcastle wasted the resultant corner. United’s start to the game could not be faulted.
There were eight minutes played when Newcastle thought they’d won a penalty after Jakub Kiwior initially appeared to handle the ball in the area after Bruno Guimaraes’ shot. But after pointing to the spot referee Chris Kavanagh was asked to check on the pitchside monitor and went back on his original decision – much to the fury of 50,000 fans.
VAR showed that the ball appeared to strike Kiwior on the thigh and Newcastle officials were told similar at half-time. But that did not prevent Kavanagh being targeted by booing fans.
Six minutes later, the disappointment was compounded as Norwegian star Martin Odegaard was left free just outside the box after Newcastle failed to clear their lines. Bukayo Saka then Jorginho played in the unmarked Arsenal skipper and his low shot skidded past Nick Pope from 25 yards.
On 18 minutes Kieran Trippier won a United corner after a run and cross down the right-hand side but Arsenal defended it well. Pope denied Arsenal a second goal when he made a superb save with his foot to keep out Gabriel Martinelli on 21 minutes.
Mid-way through the first half Saka broke clear down the left but Pope managed to flick the ball to safety via his chest. Another England international would respond at the other end with a big save on 27 minutes.
Bruno played in Willock but the former Gunner saw Aaron Ramsdale come out and make a sprawling save low down. On 40 minutes Odegaard slipped the ball to Martinelli down the left but he fired well wide of the target in a let off for Newcastle.
Schar headed straight at Ramsdale after Trippier’s cross two minutes into stoppage time as Newcastle threatened again. But nine minutes into that added time period Arsenal could have struck a dagger into Toon hopes.
Pope came to the rescue in first half stoppage time when Martinelli got free down the left after Schar failed to clear his lines. The ball was pulled back for Odegaard but Pope made a crucial save.
The Gunners went in with a slender but without Pope, Arsenal could easily have been home and dry by the interval. However, Pope’s brilliance kept the game alive for the second half.
Three minutes into the second half Murphy crossed the ball from the right to hand Isak his first bit of real service but his effort struck the post. Moments later, Schar rose for an attacking header again but Ramsdale made another save to deny the Magpies.
On 51 minutes Martinelli danced his way down the left before striking a shot at goal but the ball clipped the crossbar and Newcastle could breathe again. Seven minutes later, Isak broke down the left and tried to slot in Willock but his shot was blocked in the danger area.
Arsenal made a change on the hour mark when Kieran Tierney – linked heavily with a summer move to Newcastle – replaced Oleksandr Zinchenko. Joelinton tried to carve open Arsenal with a pressing run then pass down the right but Bruno’s weak effort was easy for Ramsdale.
With 63 minutes played, Howe made his first change of the day when Miguel Almiron was sent on to replace Murphy. Yet the fresh legs did not have the desired effect.
The Gunners made it 2-0 with 19 minutes left with a goal that had spats of end of season fatigue written all over it. Martinelli was hardly galloping down the left but was allowed to keep probing.
Despite Sven Botman’s attempts to stand him up, he was able to clip in a low cross and Schar could only stab it past his own goalkeeper to give Arsenal a two-goal cushion. Howe made a couple more changes with 12 minutes to go as Allan Saint-Maximin and Anthony Gordon were sent on for Wilson and Willock.
Dan Burn was booked with 16 minutes to go after a late challenge on Saka that would prove his last action of the day. Two changes more followed swiftly as Matt Targett and Elliot Anderson with Burn and Joelinton.
Sub Anderson had his legs taken by Granit Xhaka in the box in the dying stages but ref Kavanagh barely gave it a second thought. Schar fired another effort over from outside the box with a minute of normal time left but it was always rising.
As six minutes of added time were displayed Bruno tried a speculative effort but again it wasn’t troubling Ramsdale. Saint-Maximin’s low shot was tipped way for a corner and eventually led to Almiron attempting a chip but Ramsdale recovered it.
Newcastle finished the game like they’d started it, on the front-foot but two defensive lapses had proved the difference in this crucial game. All is not lost for Newcastle though but they will need to be back to their best at Elland Road next weekend.
Attendance: 52, 267
Ref: Chris Kavanagh
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