This was a game for both Newcastle United and Arsenal FC to measure just how far they’ve come since the corresponding fixture last season. A year ago, Newcastle won the matchup at SJP 2-0 and ended Arsenal’s top-four hopes removing them from the Champions League equation.
This season, both teams had improved dramatically, with Arsenal battling it out with Manchester City for the title and Newcastle disrupting the top four. This weekend, there surely was that big-game feel about this fixture.
Newcastle started the game brightly with Jacob Murphy smashing the post in the second minute. They then had to wait for five minutes as VAR mulled over a handball decision, referee Chris Kavanagh originally awarding the Magpies a penalty.
After countless replays, and after Kavanagh himself visited the monitor to look at the play himself, the decision was overturned.
That decision seemed to disturb the fierce atmosphere inside St James’ Park.
A little after that turn of events, Martin Odegaard was then given the freedom and enough room to strike a low-driving shot from a distance to put the visitors ahead.
Arsenal were beginning to win the midfield battle—with Sean Longstaff missing through injury, Newcastle looked unbalanced. There wasn’t as much bite in midfield with Jorginho and Odegaard able to dominate proceedings.
Nick Pope had to save chances from Gabriel Martinelli and Odegaard in quick succession and he’d later deny Bukayo Saka on a one-on-one after he had been played in by Granit Xhaka.
Tempers flared as the half-time whistle blew, Newcastle unhappy with Arsenal for their obvious need to slow the game down. Given the aftermath of the 0-0 draw at The Emirates, it was always going to be a feisty affair.
Aaron Ramsdale was called into serious action within four minutes of the restart when, after Isak’s header had hit the post, he clawed away Schar’s header from close range.
Martinelli then clipped an effort off the top of Newcastle’s crossbar as there was little break from the breathless pace of the game as play switched rapidly from end to end.
Arsenal doubled their lead with 19 minutes remaining when Martinelli’s driven cross ricocheted past Pope off Schar and into the net—had the Swiss not put it in, then it’d had been an open Odegaard at the other end of that pass, anyway.
A defeat for Newcastle leaves them with work to do to clinch Champions League football for next season. That said, a West Ham victory over Manchester United on Sunday put the pressure on Erik ten Haag’s men more than Eddie Howe’s side entering the final month of competition.
This was the first game that Isak and Wilson have started together—and perhaps it was the wrong move in hindsight—but with Longstaff absent, it left Howe with very few options other than exploring uncharted territory.
If this is the gap to second place for Newcastle, then it’s not a massive leap. Although teams will get stronger next season, the fact that Newcastle lost the game in the big moments won’t dishearten them completely.
Had Murphy scored in the opening minutes, it’d have been a different game. It was a frustrating day and one of small margins.
Newcastle will need to be able to cope with teams coming to St James’ Park and slowing the game down a lot better in the future. Especially, if they do play in the Champions League next season—the street smarts will have to go up a level.
Next up is a trip to Leeds United for a lunchtime kick-off on Saturday. Big Sam will be looking to dent his former side’s Champions League hopes in a bid to keep Leeds in the Premier League. It will be an intriguing game but one Newcastle must win.