Football: Newcastle pass their toughest test: United move four points clear as Blackburn keep up the chase with efficient victory at Stamford Bridge

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Arsenal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

NEWCASTLE borrowed the 'lucky' moniker from Arsenal yesterday as Kevin Keegan's team established more daylight between themselves and the rest of the Premiership. They now lead Blackburn by four points and Arsenal by 13, although Keegan was the first to admit there was little at Highbury to separate the sides.

The team of the moment came through a compelling encounter, clutching a sixth win in six League games because they are in the kind of mood where they believe they can do no wrong. They deserved the good fortune that came their way because they are so pleasing on the eye, counter-attacking with skill and pace that could easily have added to the 22 goals they have amassed already in the Premiership.

If this was not quite the royal command performance that had accounted for Antwerp in the Uefa Cup last week, credit must go to Arsenal, who competed aggressively from first to last and, more surprisingly, often showed the more precise touch with their passing.

Everybody agreed it had been another magnificent advertisement for the game. Both managers were fulsome in their praise of their rivals. Indeed the only dissension was over who to credit with Newcastle's first and last goals.

'Own goals,' George Graham said, thus sparing the unfortunate Martin Keown no embarassment at all. Keegan preferred to put two beside Peter Beardsley's name on the Newcastle forward's domestic return after a fractured cheekbone. However, this was no occasion to pick an argument; merely to savour what had gone before.

Keegan's relief at surviving with no cost to Newcastle's 100 per cent record was clear. 'That is as severe a test as we have had,' he said. 'It is such a difficult place to come to, you are grateful just to get anything.' Graham, who was generally pleased with Arsenal's display, said of Keegan's team: 'They are championship material and will be there at the death. The great thing about Newcastle is that they bring out the best in you.'

Arsenal had already gone close through Paul Merson when, after six minutes, Newcastle launched their first devastating response. From Keown's clearance the ball dropped to Beardsley, who, on his 500th League appearance, took careful aim. The shot was not going to beat David Seaman until Keown put his head in the way.

Badly stung, Arsenal equalised two minutes later, ending a wait of 369 minutes for a League goal. Darren Peacock hesitated to clear Merson's free-kick and Tony Adams bundled the ball home.

From there Arsenal gained an uneasy control; uneasy because while they penned Newcastle deep in their own half they had always to be alive to the danger when possession was lost. Pavel Srnicek saved well from Merson, but it was Newcastle who scored next, right on half-time.

Ruel Fox, a lively foil alongside Andy Cole, who did not enjoy the best of returns to Highbury, crossed deep and Lee Dixon felt the need to push Philippe Albert. Beardsley's penalty was emphatic.

Arsenal responded splendidly for a team who had not arrived home from their European tie in Cyprus until the early hours of Friday, Stefan Schwarz finding spaces between the three central defenders - Keegan's answer to the absence of the injured Barry Venison - with the range and accuracy of his distribution.

Srnicek was beaten again by Wright's shot a minute from the end, but by then Newcastle had scored their third. Beardsley was at the heart of it, but this time Fox was the executioner, although Keown had the final touch after the ball came back off the bar.

Unlucky Keown, unlucky Arsenal. Lucky all those who were there.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour (Campbell 71), Jensen (Selley 71), Scwarz, Merson; Wright, Smith. Substitute not used: Bartram (gk).

Newcastle (5-3-2): Srnicek; Hottiger, Peacock, Howey, Albert, Beresford; Beardsley, Lee, Sellars; Fox, Cole. Substitutes not used: Hooper (gk), Watson, Mathie.

Referee: T Holbrook (Walsall).

More football, pages 38 and 39

(Photograph omitted)

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