Gunners show their mettle in vital St James Park victory to keep the title race alive

By Connor Franklin

If you needed any more evidence of how much Arsenal have improved this season, and how far they have come in the last year under Mikel Arteta, this was conclusive.

This was a clash between two titans, two evenly matched, top four sides who have both made huge strides forward since their previous meeting. It feels like the start of a rivalry between the two clubs, who are going to go toe-to-toe – fighting and scrapping with each other – for seasons to come. What is clear to see is that it will be hard to dislodge either side from the Champions League places over the next couple of years, a tricky proposition for the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Brighton, and Aston Villa, all looking to stand alongside them, moving forward.

My conclusion to take from a high octane, tense affair: Newcastle and Arsenal are the two most improved teams in the Premier League and they look like they are here to stay.

The game was settled by fine margins. Newcastle fell short, and did not take their chances. Meanwhile Arsenal did take theirs, scoring both their goals at the end of prolonged periods of home pressure. That is the sign of renewed strength within a side. Arsenal became only the second team to beat Newcastle in front of their own supporters in the past 15 months. A huge result and performance.

This is why Mikel Arteta’s side are going to either finish as the best or second-best team in England this season. It is also why Newcastle will almost certainly end up being third or fourth best, behind them.

It was against Newcastle at this ground last season that Arsenal’s hopes of top four were destroyed; a 2-0 defeat that exposed Arsenal frailties as they crumbled under the pressure of a black-and-white onslaught. They looked weak and timid on that occasion, and were bullied… which just didn’t happen on Sunday.

Newcastle started like an express train, hitting the post through Jacob Murphy on their first attack. Then, from the resulting corner, they won a penalty when a Bruno Guimarares shot hit Jakub Kiwior. It looked like handball in real time and referee pointed to the spot, only for it to be overturned having hit Kiwior’s leg first. More evidence for why VAR is important to the league, with that proving to be the correct decision.

Martin Odegaard was allowed to gather possession in space 30 yards from goal. Nobody got out quickly enough to close him down as Norwegian struck past Nick Pope to give the Gunners the lead. The Gunners having the lead meant they could invite Newcastle on and counter them. It was a plan that worked to perfection in the second half as Arsenal gained their second when Martinelli’s cross was turned.

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