Arsenal vs. Newcastle: 6 Things We Learned at the Emirates

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterMarch 12, 2012

Arsenal vs. Newcastle: 6 Things We Learned at the Emirates

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    Bizarro Arsenal lives on. And now, so does hope.

    Arsenal came from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1 on Monday night in an English Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium.

    The victory was Arsenal's fifth straight overall—and fourth consecutive—after falling behind.

    With three more points, the Gunners are now just one behind North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur for third place—and three ahead of Chelsea for fourth.

    Hatem Ben Arfa opened the scoring for Newcastle in the 14th minute as the visitors capitalized on a defensive miscue. Robin van Persie equalized a minute later after a cross from Theo Walcott, who was superb all night.

    The match remained tied until second-half stoppage time, when Thomas Vermaelen steered home another Walcott cross for the winner.

    It was exactly the kind of good fortune that has seemed to avoid Arsenal at every turn in recent years. But now the breaks are going Arsenal's way, now the winning run is at five games and now there's more and more reason to be excited about Arsenal's future.

The Bounces Are Going Arsenal's Way

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    Just over a week ago the venue was Anfield and the opponent was Liverpool.

    Arsenal had no business winning that day, but in a stunning reversal of character they took the points anyway.

    On Monday night, the venue was the Emirates and the opponent was Newcastle.

    Arsenal had been here countless times before—doing enough to win but heading into stoppage time on level terms.

    Old Arsenal would have drawn Monday's match. Bizarro Arsenal won it, thanks to a late, late goal from the same hard-charging central defender who had looked shaky in his own half for much of the night.

    Old Arsenal would have messed that up somehow. But Old Arsenal is gone, at least for now, and Bizarro Arsenal keeps getting all the breaks.

    Don't believe it?

    Saturday's comeback win was the fourth such victory on the spin for Arsenal. No other team has come from behind to win four straight matches in the Premier League.

    Make no mistake: No team completes four straight comebacks without a bit of luck going their way.

    And as any Arsenal supporter would tell you, luck hasn't exactly sought out the Gunners in recent years.

    That's one reason why the mood is so bright tonight in North London.

    It's not the only reason, though.

    The win streak now stands at five games, and Spurs are only one point ahead in third place.

    What's more, there are signs that the club will do anything possible to keep Robin van Persie.

    It''s a start, if nothing else. For now, it's hard not to feel good about Arsenal.

The Race for Third Is Truly On

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    On Jan. 22, Arsenal were adrift in fifth place, five points behind Chelsea and 10 behind Tottenham Hotspur after losing three consecutive league matches.

    The fans were angry, the manager was angry and Arsenal seemed destined to miss out on a top-four spot for the first time in Arsene Wenger's tenure.

    Seven weeks and six matches later, Arsenal are secure in fourth position, three points ahead of Chelsea and just one behind Spurs. Wenger's team is perhaps the hottest team in England, and Spurs are suddenly reeling after three straight losses of their own.

    Ten games remain in the run-in. One point separates the two North London rivals.

    Game on.

No Champions League for Newcastle

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    Before Monday, Newcastle still had an outside shot at Champions League qualification through a top-four league finish.

    After a late loss to Arsenal, that chance is now all but gone.

    With 10 games to go, Newcastle must overcome an eight-point deficit and overtake both Arsenal and Chelsea. Alan Pardew's team has had an outstanding season, but that seems too much to ask.

    Pardew will say his team deserved more, and in truth the result may have been harsh.

    Newcastle took an aggressive approach in the first half and went for broke with the introduction of Shola Ameobi for Gabriel Obertan in the second half.

    But in fairness, Newcastle wasted too much time and created too few clear chances. Arsenal held a 23-4 edge in shots and dominated possession 61-39. The late goal must have felt like a sucker punch, but the real surprise was that Arsenal hadn't scored a second until then.

    For Newcastle, though, Monday showed that sixth place is no fluke.

    With a little luck, overtaking Chelsea for fifth and a Europa League berth isn't out of the question.

Walcott Was Immense

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    It hasn't been a banner season for Theo Walcott.

    Anonymous more often than influential, Walcott's popularity among Gooners has fluctuated as wildly as Arsenal's fortunes.

    Monday should serve as a high point. Walcott constantly got loose on the right wing and played several good crosses into the box.

    The last one led to the winning goal, courtesy of Thomas Vermaelen's late run.

    For all the guff Walcott has taken this season, he deserves a pat on the back for his performance against Newcastle.

The Defense Still Had Issues

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    Vermaelen's late offensive heroics will draw the headlines, but Arsenal's Belgian defender had trouble at times defensively.

    And he wasn't the only one.

    In the 14th minute, Vermaelen's giveaway in Arsenal's half directly led to Newcastle's opening goal. Kieran Gibbs was also at fault after failing to shepherd Hatem Ben Arfa to the byline for a cross.

    Instead, Gibbs allowed Ben Arfa to set up a left-footed shot that beat Wojciech Szczesny at the near post.

    Aside from that incident, Arsenal's defense had a decent game. Newcastle rarely threatened, generating just two shots on goal.

    But as the race for third place heats up, every error will become magnified. As such, Arsenal's defense needs to be as faultless as possible.

Euro 2012 Just Got More Interesting for Holland

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    What was up with Robin van Persie and Tim Krul?

    Trash-talk is one thing. But van Persie and Krul took it further than that, seemingly into the personal realm, with their on-field spat.

    It started in the first half, when van Persie lingered around Krul's box as the Newcastle keeper prepared to clear the ball.

    Van Persie apparently thought Krul was wasting time, and Krul seemed to think RvP should mind his own business.

    It continued after Arsenal's late goal, and threatened to boil over into something more serious.

    Both players had to be held back, both players were booked and both teams started to mix it up in the closing minutes.

    Such an incident isn't unusual in football.

    Tempers often flair amid late drama. The odd part is that Krul and van Persie are international teammates with the Netherlands (though, actually, the Dutch have been known to do stuff like this).

    Both have a chance to make Holland's roster this summer at Euro 2012, which should be interesting.

    The Dutch figure to be among the favorites, but could in-fighting become a distraction?

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