Arsenal took on Newcastle United in the Premier League last night in what was a must-win game for them. They had the opportunity to close the gap on third-placed Spurs to only one point if they could beat a Newcastle team that were hoping to close in on Arsenal themselves.
Arsenal had won their last four Premier League games, and Arsene Wenger went with a very similar team to the one that beat AC Milan 3-0 last week. The only change in the team was the return of Mikael Arteta after he had missed the Milan game with concussion. It meant Gervinho dropped out, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to a wide role in Arsenal's attacking trio.
Andre Santos returned to the Arsenal squad after three months out injured, and he was on the bench too. It's great to see him available again, as I thought he was starting to adapt to the pace of the English game before he picked up his injury. He has a lot to offer as an attacking full-back, but I think he might have more to offer defensively than Kieran Gibbs does at the moment.
In the early exchanges the game was fairly open. Both sides looked capable of scoring. Arsenal missed a couple of decent chances through the usually reliable Robin van Persie before the first goal arrived in the 14th minute. Unfortunately for Arsenal it was Newcastle who managed to take the lead.
Newcastle broke forward and managed to find some space between the Arsenal defence and the midfield. Thomas Vermaelen managed to win the ball, but his clearance was poor and Newcastle took advantage of it. The ball was played to Hatem Ben Arfa who had been left in a lot of space by Gibbs, and he brought it into the Arsenal penalty area.
Gibbs managed to get back between him and the goal, but he showed his inexperience and let Ben Arfa cut inside onto his left foot. From only 10 yards out he crashed the ball past Wojciech Szczesny at his near post to put Newcastle 1-0 up. Maybe Szczesny shouldn't have been beaten at his near post, but he had very little chance of saving it in my opinion.
It was a blow for Arsenal, but the team managed to show the strength they have as they recovered almost immediately. Straight from the kick off, Arsenal broke away and Theo Walcott crossed for RVP who took the ball under control with a sublime touch. He took another touch to beat his marker, and then he finished excellently past Tim Krul in the Newcastle goal.
Less than a minute had passed since Newcastle took the lead, but the pendulum had swung in Arsenal's favour now. For the rest of the first half Newcastle defended resolutely, and Arsenal attempted to pick holes in their defence. There were a couple of chances, but none of them were cast-iron and half time arrived with the score at 1-1.
Newcastle withdrew Davide Santon at half time after he had been given a torrid time by Walcott. James Perch replaced him and he immediately tried to get a lot closer to the man who was having one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt. Walcott continued to have a major impact on the game, as he beat players with a combination of pace and skill.
He set Tomas Rosicky up for what was probably Arsenal's best chance to take the lead, but Rosicky badly mishit his attempt. There were other chances too for Arsenal, but a mixture of poor finishing and good goalkeeping kept them at bay. It looked like it wasn't going to be Arsenal's night as the clock ticked towards the end of the game.
There was some renewed optimism when five added minutes were shown, and Arsenal again tried to push for the winning goal. Newcastle came out of their shell just a little as they sensed a chance to get a late winner of their own. They were caught on the break very swiftly by Arsenal in the final minute of added time, and the result was the winning goal for Arsenal.
Arsenal won the ball in front of their own penalty area and broke very quickly with plenty of players streaming forward. The ball was played wide to Walcott and he put a cross into the area where four Arsenal players were waiting for it. The ball hit a defender and then Aaron Ramsey before it fell to the unmarked Thomas Vermaelen.
Vermaelen swept the ball home from five yards out to give Arsenal a dramatic late victory, and the team celebrated. There was little or no time left for Newcastle to do something about the goal. Arsenal got the victory they so badly wanted.
Before Newcastle could kick off there were a few words exchanged between RVP and Krul, and they had to be separated by the other players and the referee. Krul had been wasting time at every possible opportunity since Arsenal had equalised, and it clearly had an adverse effect on RVP. He was quick to rub in the goal when Arsenal got it, and Krul didn't take kindly to it.
When Newcastle eventually kicked off they tried to launch the ball into the Arsenal penalty area, but Arsenal saw the game out. It eventually finished in the 99th minute with Arsenal getting the three precious points, and moving within one point of third-placed Spurs. The turnaround in fortunes between the two clubs over the last two weeks has been nothing short of remarkable.
When Spurs led Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates with 40 minutes gone it looked like they would open up a 13-point gap with 12 games to go. Only two games later that gap has now shrunk to one point, and the momentum has swung completely in Arsenal's favour. They have won five Premier League games in a row while Spurs have lost their last three.
Spurs have an FA Cup quarterfinal with Bolton on Saturday while Arsenal have the weekend off. They both play again on Wednesday, March 21 when Arsenal travel to Everton while Spurs play at home to Stoke City. It's possible that Arsenal will overtake Spurs after those games, but I would be happy enough if they matched their result.
I was really impressed with Walcott last night and he thoroughly deserved his man of the match award. Maybe the emergence of Chamberlain has been the impetus for him to knuckle down and improve his performances. Whatever has happened it has benefited both Walcott and Arsenal. I hope he continues to show the form he did last night.
Tomas Rosicky was also at his best again last night, and he has been showing his true qualities in recent weeks. The club have rewarded him with a new contract, and he looks like he has a lot to offer at long last. He not only has been putting in a great shift attacking, but he has also been making tackles I didn't think he was capable of.
Besides winning their fifth Premier League game in a row, Arsenal also managed to set a new Premier League record last night. They are the first team in the history of the Premier League to come from behind and win four games in a row. The strength of character they have shown to achieve those results is quite remarkable.
None of the games were against supposed easy opposition as they won away to both Sunderland and Liverpool, as well as at home to Spurs and Newcastle. Of course it would be much easier on the Arsenal fans if the team just went out and won games without going a goal down, but that isn't the Arsenal way. Every game seems to be a roller coaster ride at the moment, and it certainly makes for exciting viewing.
Unfortunately the next game isn't for another eight days, and a trip to Everton will probably be tougher than any of the previous five games Arsenal have won. The team have shown that they have the belief and determination to get a result in any game at the moment, and they stand an excellent chance of doing so at Everton. It won't be an easy task, but it's one they're capable of accomplishing.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See you tomorrow.