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Men's Football Magpies rip Champions League football out of Arsenal’s control

AS ARSENAL kicked off in Monday night’s crucial match in the North London race for Champions League football, the ball went straight back to Aaron Ramsdale. He slipped to the ground as he launched the ball upfield. St James’ Park cheered sarcastically in unison. It was the first of many times those kitted out in black and white rose to their feet to applaud emphatically. Before defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City in their last two matches, Newcastle had won six on the bounce. No-one relishes visiting St James’ Park any more, and it was in this great theatre that Arsenal lost control of their European destiny for next season. 

Tottenham swallowed the Gunners alive in a one-sided North London derby last week, piling the pressure on Mikel Arteta’s side in their pursuit of Champions League football next season. Spurs’ narrow win over Burnley on Saturday ensured Arsenal couldn’t afford to drop any more points if they were to keep that race for top four in their own hands. 

But Eddie Howe has turned Newcastle’s fortunes round since taking over. They gave Arteta’s young side a lesson in high pressing and intensity, enjoying two thirds of possession in a fluid first-half display. 

Ramsdale’s hacked clearance a mere six seconds in set the tone. Seven minutes later, Miguel Almiron had blocked his pass. The stadium fell silent as the ball skidded across the goalmouth but, crucially, not over the line. 

Newcastle’s player of the season award went to Joelinton this term for a dramatic turnaround in his fortunes in the north-east. He went close with an early free kick that flew wide but had Ramsdale worried. Arsenal were not at the races, but their talisman tried to force the issue somewhat. Bukayo Saka tried to add to his 11 league goals this season with two blocked shots. 

Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin wasn’t about to be outshone though, and cut inside from the left to sting the gloves of Ramsdale, the goalkeeper atoning for his nervous distribution with a top save. 

Newcastle were better in the first half, and they started the second period better too. Within 10 minutes, they’d sent their — and Tottenham’s — fanbase into delirium, as Joelinton’s superb cross forced a Ben White own goal. White had to get there ahead of Callum Wilson, starting his first game of 2022 after injury. But all White could do was gift the hosts a lead they wholly merited. 

Arsenal tried Alexandre Lacazette. They even tried Nicolas Pepe. They tried everything. But Newcastle United have become a winning machine in the second half of the season. 

Other teams would have sought to hold on to what they had. Not the Magpies. They sensed Arsenal’s desperation: they wanted another. 

Wilson volleyed just over the bar after Joelinton dug out a cross. Then White gained some kudos with a magnificent block to deny a certain Wilson goal. 

Jacob Murphy was denied by Ramsdale when he ought to have found the net from a two-on-one counter. Arsenal’s desperation went up a notch — and then so did Newcastle’s craft. Big centre-back Dan Burn stayed up after a poor set-piece, swivelled, and dinked through to Wilson, who snuck away from the Arsenal backline unchecked. Ramsdale smothered but the ball ran free. £40 million signing Bruno Guimaraes couldn’t believe his luck, able to simply slide the ball into an empty net to make it two. 

Even now Newcastle refused to wind down the clock. Ramsdale got down low to keep out substitute Dwight Gayle with a fine save just when it looked like it might get even worse for Arteta’s Arsenal. It will get worse if arch-rivals Tottenham secure fourth spot at their expense on the final day. Tottenham’s opponents: bottom-of-the-league Norwich City. Newcastle’s finest gave their loyal fanbase a lap of honour. Dejected Arsenal couldn’t get down the tunnel quickly enough. 

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