ALL logic and reason dictated that the title race was over – but Arsenal laughed in the face of commonsense here.
Mikel Arteta’s men kept the heat on Manchester City by inflicting only Newcastle’s second home defeat of the season with a performance of resilience, intelligence and class.
A week ago, some Gooners were starting to worry that their team might finish third in a two-horse race, that Newcastle might even pip them to the runners-up spot.
But with skipper Martin Odegaard in masterful form and netting the first-half opener, Arsenal defended with balls of steel and counter-attacked like the clappers to defeat the in-form team from Geordie Arabia.
There were a couple of excellent saves from Aaron Ramsdale, two narrow escapes when the Toon hit the woodwork and plenty of defiant defending.
Yet Arsenal sealed victory through a Fabian Schar own goal and are now just a point behind champions City, who have a game in hand but also face the added burden of a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.
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The chances of the Gunners snatching the title away from Pep Guardiola’s men remain slim but their refusal to allow this campaign to fizzle out after a four-match winless streak has been admirable this week.
Victory over a pitiful Chelsea had halted the slump which cost Arsenal pole position – and Arteta stuck with Jorginho and Polish centre-half Jakob Kiwior, who came into the starting line-up for that midweek win.
After eight wins in nine, and 13 goals in their previous three matches, Howe’s men are close to Champions League qualification but with Liverpool finishing like a train, there is more work to do.
Howe went gung-ho here, opting to start both of his in-form frontmen, Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak, the Swede in a wide-left role.
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Arsenal, who had wilted here in a 2-0 defeat last May to cost them a place in the top four, arrived to the usual scenes of flag-waving bedlam, the National Anthem drowned out.
And the hosts made a whirlwind start. Within 80 seconds, Jacob Murphy crashed a shot against the inside of the post after a centre from former Gunner Joe Willock.
Then Newcastle were awarded an early penalty when hapless ref Chris Kavanagh, who brings an element of chaos to any fixture, pointed to the spot, believing Kiwior had handled a fierce shot from Bruno Guimaraes.
But, as VAR Andy Madley spotted, Kiwior had done well to tuck his arm behind his back and the ball had struck the top of his thigh.
All this while a plane trailing a banner reading ‘Free All Saudi prisoners’ buzzed around St James’ Park, as a reminder that this is the most romanticised of all sportwashing projects.
Nobody had seen the Arsenal opener coming but when Jorginho squared for Odegaard, the Arsenal skipper found himself in ample space to lash home a left-footed drive from 20 yards.
Suddenly, Odegaard was everywhere – an outrageous piece of skill sending Newcastle into retreat and then a pass which sent Gabriel Martinelli hurtling through, only for Nick Pope to stick out a leg and thwart his shot.
Seconds later, Odegaard had another pop himself, a curling effort tipped wide by the Magpies keeper.
It was turning into a high-tempo, high-quality contest – Newcastle buccaneering; Arsenal more measured but menacing on the break.
Jorginho sent Saka through but this time Pope used his bicep to keep out the England winger’s shot.
Aaron Ramsdale was then forced into action, making a smart stop after Willock’s shot was half-blocked by Gabriel.
It was turning ill-tempered – the bad blood which had boiled up during the goalless draw at the Emirates in January evident again – Wilson and Granit Xhaka involved in a flaming row.
With the final action of the first half, Martinelli cut back for Odegaard, whose turns left Sven Botman on his backside before his shot was kept out by Pope’s out-stretched boot.
Newcastle, though, started the second half as they’d begun the first – not quite knowing how they hadn’t managed an early goal.
Murphy skewered Oleksandr Zinchenko and centred for Isak whose stooping header struck the near post.
Then from a Kieran Trippier free-kick, Fabian Schar’s close-range header was met by a sensational strong-arm save from Ramsdale.
It was breathless stuff, and at the other end, Martinelli was soon whipping a shot against the crossbar.
Arsenal were digging in, a Xhaka block on Willock typifying their resilience, and then they doubled their lead with a stunning counter-attack.
Martinelli showed blistering pace, then clever feet, down the left and when he cut back, Schar diverted it into his own net at the near post.
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The locals were fuming about time-wasting – although anyone who witnessed the corresponding fixture at the Emirates, would have had that down as a pot-kettle situation.
And Arsenal held out for one of their most impressive victories of an excellent season.
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