Newcastle 2-1 Arsenal: Matt Ritchie completes comeback as hosts all-but ensure survival
Last Updated: 15/04/18 11:37pm
Matt Ritchie scored the winner as Newcastle all-but ensured their Premier League survival with a 2-1 comeback win over bogey side Arsenal.
Alexandre Lacazette had volleyed the visitors into a 14th-minute lead at St James' Park, but Ayoze Perez drew Newcastle level (29) with a smart near-post finish before Ritchie completed the turnaround with a 68th-minute strike.
A fourth straight Premier League win means Rafa Benitez's once relegation-threatened side have surpassed the 40-point safety mark set by their manager and, after a priceless victory on the eve of his birthday, will now harbour real hopes of a top-10 finish.
But sixth-placed Arsenal - much-changed after their midweek trip to Moscow - have now suffered five successive defeats on the road and see their lead over Burnley trimmed to just two points with five league games remaining.
Newcastle: Dubravka (6), Yedlin (7), Lascelles (7), Lejeune (7), Dummett (7), Ritchie (7), Diame (8), Shelvey (8), Kenedy (6), Perez (7), Gayle (7).
Subs: Murphy (N/A), Slimani (7), Joselu (6).
Arsenal: Cech (5), Chambers (5), Mustafi (6), Holding (6), Monreal (6), Elneny (7), Xhaka (6), Iwobi (6), Willock (5), Aubameyang (6), Lacazette (7).
Subs: Welbeck (6), Maitland-Niles (5), Nketiah (N/A).
Man of the Match: Mo Diame
The Gunners had enjoyed a 10-match-winning Premier League streak against their hosts and had an early chance when Lacazette - playing alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the first time - swivelled to craft space but scuffed his shot.
Jonjo Shelvey had lofted several threatening balls forward but it was a fine long drive from Shkodran Mustafi that yielded first reward, Aubameyang taking a controlling touch before crossing for a lunging Lacazette at the back post.
The hosts were struggling to find attacking rhythm as Arsenal bristled with intent, Alex Iwobi jinking in the box and drilling low before Jamaal Lascelles was forced to turn a dangerous Calum Chambers cross behind.
Newcastle were unchanged from the side that beat Leicester last time out.
Arsene Wenger made six changes from the side that drew at CSKA Moscow in midweek to progress to the Europa League semi-finals, notably handing Joe Willock a league debut and starting Alexandre Lacazette alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the first time.
But Newcastle were level just before the half-hour mark when their tactic to go over the top paid off. Dwight Gayle brought down Shelvey's looping punt and when DeAndre Yedlin whipped in, Perez darted past Mustafi to sweep beyond Petr Cech.
Arsenal might have restored their lead had Lacazette, having dispossessed Mo Diame, opted to shoot rather than tee up an off-guard Joe Willock (43) but the hosts instead had a foothold and Perez broke promisingly soon after the restart before being crowded out.
Gayle, full of running, was replaced by Islam Slimani, and it was the substitute's fine header that allowed Ritchie - via a Perez flick - to bury what would prove a decisive second.
Wenger had brought on Danny Welbeck for Willock just moments before the game swung away from his side but the deficit might have been greater as Kenedy hit the crossbar just minutes later.
Newcastle withstood a late barrage into the box but the equaliser never came and the famous Geordie folk song 'Blaydon Races' rang out, Benitez's side now 13 points clear of the drop zone and surely safe.
Man of the match - Mo Diame
Shelvey caught the eye again with a string of dreamy diagonal and forward balls but while he crafted openings, Diame dug in. The revitalised Frenchman toiled in midfield, supported the front men and made some key interceptions - notably when Lacazette was about to let fly from the edge of the area.
- Arsenal have lost five successive league matches away from home for the first time since December 1984.
- Arsenal have now lost 11 Premier League games this season; equaling their worst tally of league defeats in a season under Arsene Wenger (11 in 2005-06).
- All seven of Matt Ritchie's Premier League goals have come in home games (four for Bournemouth, three for Newcastle).
- Joe Willock (born in August 1999) was just the fourth player who was born after Arsene Wenger's first match in charge to make a Premier League appearance for Arsenal (Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson & Eddie Nketiah are the others). Willock was the 56th teenager to make a Premier League appearance for Arsenal - the most of any Premier League team - six more than Chelsea & Manchester United (50 each).
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Jonjo Shelvey was again at the fore, his expansive passing range showcasing the best of his talents. He hit seven accurate long balls - most of which got Gayle running at Arsenal's defence. Will Gareth Southgate finally be convinced he could - at least from the bench - offer something different?
Rafa Benitez: "We were not expecting to be in the top 10, but at the same time I said we were dreaming, but we were awake and thinking that we could do it. If you see the way that the players were working for every single ball - and
the fans and all the staff - everybody was pushing in the same direction. It's a great achievement for everyone."
Arsene Wenger: "It's a bit 'the story of the season'. We had 70 per cent of the ball, were 1-0 up and in the end, you lose 2-1 and you wonder how you can lose this game. In the second half, I feel that some players paid a little bit physically having played the game on Thursday night in Moscow."
Newcastle travel to Everton for a Monday Night Football clash on April 23. Arsenal host West Ham on Super Sunday a day earlier - then welcome Atletico Madrid the following Thursday in their Europa League semi-final first leg.