Arsenal slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Newcastle at St James’ Park, a result which could well prove decisive in the battle for top four.
Newcastle had lost 18 of their previous 19 meetings with Arsenal in all competitions, which seemed to bode well for the north Londoners. Mikel Arteta’s side arrived at St James’ Park under huge pressure, however, having collapsed to a 3-0 defeat in the north London derby last week and ceded fourth spot to Tottenham following their 1-0 win against Burnley at the weekend.
Even so, Arsenal knew that two wins from their last two games would guarantee them a return to the Champions League next term. As it is, they will go into their final match against Everton two points behind Spurs and hoping that their rivals slip up against rock-bottom Norwich.
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The visitors gave an introverted performance in the first half, struggling to rise to the occasion. Callum Wilson gave Gabriel Magalhaes and Ben White a hard time, drawing a caution for the latter early on, while Allan Saint-Maximin had Takehiro Tomiyasu well beaten, getting in behind or cutting inside unopposed time and again until his marker was forced off with a hamstring injury and replaced by Cedric Soares.
Arsenal struggled to play out from the back, a succession of sloppy passes ensuring that the game was largely contested in their final third. Nonetheless, other than a low drive from Saint-Maximin which forced Aaron Ramsdale into action, Newcastle failed to make many quality chances even as they prowled their opponents’ penalty area.
The half-time stats were ominous for the visitors. Newcastle went in at the break with 67 per cent possession and eight corners to their name, having spent much of the first 45 minutes bombarding the Arsenal box with set-piece deliveries.
When, 10 minutes after the restart, Joelinton got in behind on the left and whipped a cross to Callum Wilson which White could only turn into the back of his own net, the game felt like a foregone conclusion. Arsenal failed to muster up much of a response despite Arteta bringing on Gabriel Martinelli, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe in a frantic push for an equaliser, with Newcastle going close through Wilson soon afterwards.
As Arsenal became increasingly desperate, they started to make glaring errors. A misplaced pass from Pepe saw Newcastle substitutes Ryan Fraser and Jacob Murphy go two-on-one, but the latter failed to beat Ramsdale from the edge of the area.
Wilson almost scored a worldie when he spotted Ramsdale off his line but, in the end, it was Bruno Guimaraes who wrapped up the points. Wilson went through one-on-one, Ramsdale made the save, but Guimaraes was there to score on the follow-up, leaving Arsenal’s ambitions of a return to the Champions League fading like a mirage on the horizon.
Progress under Arteta up for debate. While Arsenal have shown glimmers of promise this season, they have still been deeply flawed. Were it not for a baffling run of three consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton in April, their top-four spot would have been guaranteed long ago and they would not have come into this game under a mountain of self-imposed pressure.
While Arteta may try to sell Europa League qualification as a form of progress given that his side missed out on European football altogether in his first full season in charge, the reality is that it represents a gain of net zero on the Unai Emery era. Where Arteta deserves credit for championing a core group of gifted youngsters in Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli, this season looks set to end in bitter disappointment and he will need to make an honest assessment of the team’s shortcomings and his own mistakes.
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MAN OF THE MATCH
Callum Wilson (Newcastle). He may not have scored either goal, but Wilson was the battering ram that broke through Arsenal’s defences.
It was uncertain whether Gabriel and White would be passed fit for the match and the latter, in particular, looked off the pace. Wilson exploited his vulnerability in ruthless fashion, dominating the physical battle early on, forcing the own goal at a crucial moment and then carving out the opening which ultimately allowed Guimaraes to kill the game.
Newcastle: Dubravka 6, Krafth 6, Schar 6, Burn 6, Targett 7, Longstaff 7, Guimaraes 8, Joelinton 8, Almiron 6, Wilson 8, Saint-Maximin 7
Subs: Lascelles 6, Fraser 5, Murphy 5, Gayle N/A
Arsenal: Ramsdale 6, Tomiyasu 3, White 4, Gabriel 5, Tavares 4, Elneny 5, Xhaka 5, Saka 6, Odegaard 5, Smith Rowe 4, Nketiah 4
Subs: Soares 4, Martinelli 6, Lacazette 4, Pepe 3
35’ SO CLOSE! Newcastle create their best chance of the match so far, Saint-Maximin flaming Tomiyasu, cutting inside and unleashing a low shot towards the bottom corner. Ramsdale gets down to push it round the post.
55’ GOAL! It’s far, far too easy for Newcastle. Joelinton gets in behind on the left and whips a cross to the onrushing Wilson, which is turned home by White for an own goal.
72’ NEARLY ANOTHER FOR NEWCASTLE! The hosts come forwards at pace and Krafth gets to the byline, crossing for Wilson. His shot is deflected narrowly wide of the far post, with Ramsdale stranded.
79’ NEWCASTLE SHOULD HAVE KILLED IT THERE! A misplaced pass from Pepe gifts Fraser and Murphy a two-on-one. The latter ends up with the ball at his feet on the edge of the area, but fails to beat Ramsdale.
81’ ALMOST A WORLDIE! Wilson spots Ramsdale off his line and attempts an audacious long-range lob, but it drops narrowly wide.
85’ GOAL! It’s disastrous from Arsenal. Wilson gets in behind, Ramsdale makes the save, but Guimaraes is there on the follow-up. It’s all over.
- Since the turn of the year, only Liverpool have won more points at home in the Premier League (25) than Newcastle (22).
- Tottenham have not lost to Norwich in the Premier League since 2014, when a goal from Robert Snodgrass gave what was then Chris Hughton’s side a 1-0 win at Carrow Road.
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