Newcastle all but secured their Premier League survival by pulling off their fourth win on the bounce over an under-strength and largely uninspiring Arsenal side at St James’ Park.
With several senior players left at home and 18-year-old midfielder Joe Willock making his first-team debut, the Gunners did actually nudge themselves in front in the 14th minute when Alexandre Lacazette volleyed home a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cross…
However, all Arsenal’s solid work was soon undermined by yet more of the defensive frailty that has come to permeate their performances this season.
In a vignette that seems to be repeating game after game, Newcastle forced an equaliser when a striker once again cut across a seemingly oblivious Shkodran Mustafi at the near post before sweeping a point-blank finish past Petr Cech before he could react.
This time it was Ayoze Perez who benefited, but only after a rather suave passing move that featured 9 of the 11 Newcastle players on the pitch…
Just to rub it in, Matt Ritchie then sealed the three points in Newcastle’s favour when Islam Slimani’s headed pass bobbled through to him on the edge of the Arsenal 18-yard box via a Perez flick and the midfielder obliged by clipping home the winner.
Ritchie then celebrated by destroying the poor corner flag…
And that’s how it finished: with Newcastle safe and sound in 10th place on 41 points and Arsenal – the only team left in England’s top five divisions still to win a point away from home in 2018 – left teetering in sixth, two points above Burnley.
What a job Rafa Benitez has done with the Toon, and with minimal support from the money men above him. To haul that club out of the mire is nothing short of sensational.
Toward the the other end of the spectrum, any way you choose to look at it, it really hasn’t been a good season for Arsene Wenger’s wimpish mob.
As well as winning the Europa League, some vast and wholesale defensive improvements will be a necessity over the next few months.
While we can’t diminish Cech for his grand career, we’d suggest that a new, younger, more mobile, more reliable goalkeeper should be the obvious starting point for summer recruitment.