Rapid-fire Gunners sink Newcastle
Arsenal required just ten minutes midway through the second-half to ensure a 3-1 victory at Newcastle United and justify manager Arsene Wenger's pre-match claim that they can make inroads on the teams above them. Three goals arrived in quick succession from Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri as Arsenal extended an impressive spell which has brought just one defeat in 21 matches. Their quick-fire trio of goals proved sufficient to dispose of a stubborn Newcastle side, who matched the London visitors for nearly an hour and wasted chances to go ahead before Obafemi Martins claimed their goal.
Newcastle started the game in a relegation position because of results elsewhere earlier in the day and remained in the bottom three at the end of it. And the angry reaction of their supporters showed there is a real fear on Tyneside that the famous club lacks the resolve to claw their way out of trouble in their remaining eight games.
It was certainly a result that raised doubts about a pre-match gamble by coach Chris Hughton in leaving out Michael Owen, who looked short of match fitness when he returned at Hull City last week for his first game in six weeks following injury. Owen lasted 73 minutes on his comeback, but did not do enough to convince Hughton he was worth a starting place against the Gunners, as Newcastle started Peter Lovenkrands alongside striker Obafemi Martins. Jonas Gutierrez was also omitted, as Hughton opted for a combative midfield featuring Kevin Nolan on his return from suspension, Ryan Taylor and Nicky Butt.
And Newcastle should have been ahead midway through the half after Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia spilled a cross and tangled with Ryan Taylor. The penalty awarded by referee Mark Halsey looked debatable, but Almunia removed the threat of post-match controversy over the decision by diving to his left to make a splendid save from Obafemi Martins spot kick.
Newcastle's other Taylor, Steven, was more successful at the other end in the 27th minute when he blocked a shot from Andrey Arshavin when the Russian forward appeared odds-on to put the Gunners ahead. An even better piece of defending from Gael Clichy halted a break by Ryan Taylor on the half-hour, as the midfielder closed in on goal.
It was 30 minutes which offered huge encouragement to Newcastle, but the threat from Arsenal was always evident and Arshavin ended a piercing break from inside his own half with a 30-yard shot that clipped the top of the bar. Newcastle responded well, but were fortunate to finish the first-half on level terms, with Robin van Persie twice going close to a goal in the closing stages. It was a warning they failed to heed and Arsenal went ahead in the 57th minute when Arshavin's free-kick was headed in by Bendtner.
Newcastle reacted instantly and within a minute were level, as Martins stabbed the ball past Almunia after Gallas failed to accept two opportunities to clear. But this was only the start of the goal fun. Six minutes later, Arsenal moved back into the lead while Newcastle were down to ten men because of an injury to Steven Taylor. Abou Diaby capitalised on the extra space by exchanging passes with van Persie before charging into the box and finishing powerfully.
And ten minutes of hectic action were completed when Nasri extended the Gunners' lead with a crisp finish inside the near post after more slack defending. There could have been further goals from Arsenal as Harper saved well from Bendtner and van Persie against a background of "going down" taunts from the Arsenal fans.
With Chelsea next on the agenda and Newcastle already two points adrift of safety, few inside St. James' Park were in the mood to argue. Meanwhile, Wenger's team still have to play all the three clubs above them and appear destined to play a significant role in the final weeks of the season.