Newcastle 0-2 Arsenal: Gunners keep title bid alive with hard-fought win
Martin Odegaard helped to keep alive Arsenal’s fading Premier League title hopes as they came through the sternest of tests to dent Newcastle’s bid for Champions League football.
The Norway international’s 14th-minute strike, his fifth goal in as many games, coupled with Fabian Schar’s unfortunate own goal, secured a priceless 2-0 victory at St James’ Park and dragged the Gunners back to within a point of Manchester City, although the leaders still have a game in hand.
That a full-blooded encounter yielded just two goals was testament to the excellence of England goalkeepers Nick Pope and Aaron Ramsdale, who each made a string of fine saves, although both needed the help of the woodwork, in the latter’s case on two occasions.
For the Magpies, who saw an early penalty decision in their favour overturned, a fifth defeat of the campaign left them looking over their shoulders with Liverpool and Brighton pushing hard in the race for a top-four finish.
Having laboured out of the blocks against Southampton seven days earlier, they knew they could not afford a repeat and with strikers Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak starting together for the first time, they went for the Gunners from the off.
Jacob Murphy was unfortunate to see a second-minute shot come back off the foot of a post after he had cut inside from Joe Willock’s cross with Ramsdale beaten, and it took a solid block by Ben White to repel Isak’s attempt seconds later.
Arsenal were rocking and looked to be in trouble when referee Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot after defender Jakub Kiwior appeared to block Bruno Guimaraes’ shot with his hand, only for the official to change his mind after being advised to review the incident.
The locals among a crowd of 52,267 were still voicing their discontent when Odegaard was given time and space on the edge of the box to fire a left-foot drive past the helpless Pope to give the visitors the lead against the run of play.
However, the Gunners grew into the game and Pope had to save from Gabriel Martinelli and Odegaard in quick succession and then denied Bukayo Saka one-on-one after he had been played in by Granit Xhaka.
Ramsdale had to save from Willock after he had run on to Wilson’s clever ball around the corner as the game continued at frenetic pace with the Magpies redoubling their efforts.
Martinelli fired across the face of goal and Pope denied Odegaard with his feet deep into stoppage time at the end of an increasingly fractious opening 45 minutes.
Ramsdale had to come to the visitors’ rescue once again within four minutes of the restart when, after Isak’s header had hit a post, he clawed away Schar’s attempt, but it was Pope who was grateful for the woodwork as Martinelli saw his 51st-minute shot thump against the bar.
There was no let-up in the breathless pace of the game as play switched rapidly from end to end, although Guimaraes failed to extend Ramsdale after being set up by Joelinton with 27 minutes remaining.
The Gunners nudged themselves further ahead 19 minutes from time when Martinelli’s driven cross ricocheted past Pope off Schar and into the net.
A deflated Newcastle fought all the way to the whistle for a way back into the game with Ramsdale tipping away substitute Allan Saint-Maximin’s raking stoppage-time strike, but Arsenal held impressively firm to see out time.