Arsenal vs. Newcastle United: Four Tactics Which Won It for the Gunners
The Gunners were much the better team, and after going behind to Hatem Ben Arfa's opener, shouldn't have had to wait until the 95th minute to add to Robin van Persie's 26th goal of the Premier League season.
Psychology played a big part as the Arsenal players—especially Tomas Rosicky—weren't callous enough to apply a clinical finish in the high pressure situations.
However, the manager's gameplan ultimately prevailed as Vermaelen ensured the home side got what they deserved—a 2-1 win and a better chance than ever expected to overtake bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur for third place.
Here are four tactics from Arsene Wenger which won Arsenal the game.
Robin Van Persie
Robin van Persie was a vital player for Arsenal tonight—with manager Arsene Wenger utilising him perfectly.
The prolific Dutchman—who now has 33 goals and 11 assists in 38 games this season—played a deep attacking role on the last defender's shoulder.
But it wasn't to break away and create one-on-ones, rather to push the Newcastle United defence back and make gaps in the penalty area for teammates to get a shot.
It worked for van Persie's opener, as he met Theo Walcott's cross after pushing his marker Mike Williamson back (with his positioning moreso than anything else) to the edge of the goal area, allowing him time and space to turn, shoot and score.
And for Vermaelen's dramatic late winner, his position on the very edge of Newcastle's defensive line drew in the two centre-backs, giving the big Belgian the time and space to slot past Tim Krul and send most of the 60,095 crowd home happy.
In essence, van Persie's positioning and movement was key for his team tonight.
Bypassing Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye
Arsenal kept virtually all of their play to the wings against Newcastle, with Arsene Wenger wanting to bypass the brilliant, tough-tackling midfield partnership of Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye.
And it worked, as both players made less tackles than average—Tiote made just two tackles (he averages over three per game), while Cabaye made three (he averages four)—and Tiote making less interceptions than usual (usually he makes 2.4 per game, tonight he made zero).
It allowed the Gunners to test Tim Krul and really work the Toon defence—which they did, fatiguing the visitors with 23 shots in total, eight on target.
That combined with the fact Arsenal had 34 percent possession in Newcastle's final third throughout the game wore the away side down—physically and mentally—meaning a winner was always likely to come.
Arsenal kept the ball in attack brilliantly with the great use of their full-backs.
Kieran Gibbs or Bacary Sagna would move down the flank with the winger when going forward, always overlapping and taking over the wing duties, while the winger would move inwards and create another option in the final third.
This allowed Arsenal more time and space in Newcastle's danger zone, and meant the Gunners could get more attempts at goal.
And it worked for the hosts, as they managed 23 shots—five more than their home average.
The tactic was a major factor in wearing down the visitors' backline, and actually led to the winner as Vermaelen bombed forward in the full-back role as Gibbs stayed back.
It seems Arsene Wenger told his Arsenal players to stop playing the FC Barcelona, tiki-taka type of football, as they appeared to go for a more no-nonsense approach to possession football against Newcastle.
They played the ball along the defence when not closed down, but as soon as pressure was put on the Gunners back four, they often played a long ball out to the wings to clear the danger.
The idea was to not allow Newcastle the ball—in Arsenal's half at least.
And when the ball was successfully moved forward, the Gunners played more of a passing game, bringing the full-back forward and keeping more bodies in Newcastle's half and final third while pressing them back.
This allowed Arsenal to play the ball around before working a move and creating gaps to fashion a chance on goal.
Arsenal's passing play up-front and quick clearances in defence meant Newcastle had virtually no chance to steal the ball after going ahead.
It helped the home side win, taking the threat of the guests as they only managed one more shot on target, only three more overall, having just 39 percent possession.