Arsenal keep heat on Tottenham with victory over Newcastle
Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 1: In the 94th-minute, with the scores level, Arsenal launched a counter-attack. From inside his own goal area Thomas Vermaelen began running. A hundred yards and about 15 seconds later the centre-half arrived at the back post to sweep in Theo Walcott's cross and snatch three points for the Gunners.
It was a dramatic demonstration of how the game has changed. Centre-halves, in the old days, would not have dreamed of making such a run, even in the improbable event of them being able to do so. It also vividly illustrated the spirit which now courses through this Arsenal team.
This was their second Premier League injury-time win in succession following the last-gasp victory at Anfield. For the fourth league match in succession Arsenal had to come from behind having conceded to Hatem Ben Arfa in the 14th minute. Newcastle's lead did not last long, less than a minute after the restart Robin van Persie scored his 33rd goal of the season to level. Van Persie had plenty of chances for a 34th, but his finishing was less sharp than usual and when he was on target he was was repeatedly denied by his compatriot Tim Krul.
That contest within a contest spilled over after Vermaelen's goal as the two Dutchman squared up to each other and had to be separated, and booked, by referee Howard Webb. Neither manager made much of the incident. Two Dutch footballers disagreeing is hardly unusual.
The three points takes Arsenal within one of Tottenham who, said Walcott, "have got to be watching over their shoulders." He added. "We've got the players here and we believe we can go further." Vermaelen concurred: "I think we can overtake Tottenham. We are on a good run." The only cloud for Arsenal is that, due to injuries and poor strategy in the summer transfer market, this rich vein of form has come too late to challenge the Manchester clubs at the summit. It does, however, augur well for next season.
So, too, did the resilience of Newcastle. Injuries to defenders have disrupted the Magpies but a Europa League place will be deserved reward for a fine season. The team's accent is Gallic rather than Geordie but they showed all the region's noted grit as they all but withstood wave after wave of attacks. Arsène Wenger accurately described his team's assault as "relentless" but for a long time the attacks foundered on Krul.
"I couldn't fault the commitment and effort," said Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager. "We put such an effort in we were running out of steam. We didn't have the legs left to see it through against a team in form." Wenger said: "It was a relentless effort from the first to the last minute. The tempo was at top level. We have that complete and total commitment to do as well as we can."
Wenger rarely picks out individuals without prompting but he made special mention of Walcott who created both goals and many more chances. Pardew had to replace his left-back, Davide Santon, at half-time. Walcott first opened Newcastle up in the fifth minute but to general astonishment Van Persie failed to turn in his cross.
That looked expensive when Vermaelen gave the ball away cheaply and Cheick Tioté and Demba Ba moved the ball swiftly to Ben Arfa who cut inside Kieran Gibbs and drilled a low shot inside Wojciech Szczesny's near post.
Arsenal kicked off, the ball found its way to Tomas Rosicky, he released Walcott and Van Persie turned Mike Williamson before tucking a shot inside the near post.
Arsenal dominated the rest of the half but with Danny Simpson clearing an Alex Song shot off the line went into the break level. Arguably their best player in recent weeks, though his performances have tended to be overshadowed by Van Persie's goals, has been Rosicky. The Czech playmaker has struggled with injury for much of his time with Arsenal but this winter he is fully fit and showing the benefit. Recent performances have persuaded Wenger to offer him a new two-year deal.
Encouragingly for Arsenal, Rosicky played just as as well after signing a new deal as he had before doing so and he went close to putting Arsenal in the lead when he ghosted across Fabricio Coloccini to glance a Walcott cross goalwards. Krul reacted sharply.
The chances piled up. Mikel Arteta picked out Van Persie but, on his weaker right foot, the striker volleyed too close to Krul. Then Rosicky fed Walcott, who turned Coloccini inside out then returned the ball only for the midfielder to skew his shot well side.
The pressure began to tell on Newcastle. Tiote was booked for bringing down Rosicky, then withdrawn with cramp. Gervinho, on for the subdued Oxlade-Chamberlain, could have been the matchwinner but he somehow screwed a shot wide after an Arteta free-kick reached him at the far post. And when Vermaelen's header was tipped over by Krul it seemed Arsenal would be denied.
Then Newcastle made an error, they attacked. It left them vulnerable to a counter and when Simpson, by now hamstrung by injury, lost possession and fell to the floor Arsenal broke. Walcott flew down the wing and Vermaelen, attacking the right-back area left empty by Simpson's absence, turned his cross in. Newcastle despaired, Arsenal exulted. Just another night in the helter-skelter Premier League.
Arsenal: SZCZESNY 6; SAGNA 8; VERMAELEN 8; KOSCIELNY 7; GIBBS 7; ROSICKY 8; SONG 8; ARTETA 8; VAN PERSIE 8; WALCOTT 9; OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN 5
Newcastle: KRUL 9; SANTON 5; WILLIAMSON 6; COLOCCINI 5; SIMPSON 7; OBERTAN 5; TIOTE 7; CABAYE 6; BEN ARFA 6; BA 5; GUITERREZ 6
Substitutes: Arsenal Gervinho 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 68), Ramsey 5 (Rosicky, 76). Newcastle Perch 5 (Santon, h-t), Shola Ameobi 5 (Obertan, 61), Guthrie (Tioté, 81).
Booked: Arsenal Koscielny, Van Persie. Newcastle Tioté, Gutierrez, Krul.
Man of the match Walcott. Match rating 8/10.
Possession: Arsenal 58% Newcastle 42%.
Attempts on target: Arsenal 13 Newcastle 3.
Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).