A three-goal victory that eased Arsenal back into a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League, but that did not feel like the story last night. Instead, it was another saga of trial and tribulation surrounding Newcastle.
Three games into Kevin Keegan's homecoming and no win, not even a goal. Except perhaps an own-goal. With Dennis Wise watching from the executive tier, it was another sub-plot for the Toon.
Quite how the newly-appointed executive director of football fits into the scheme of things only time will tell, and the manager declared that he needed to sit down with Wise and Chris Mort, and hear what they think. His understanding is clear – Wise reports to him, although he said of the arrival: "I'd have like to have got a player in."
The message that he was in charge was emphatic and Keegan was at pains to stress that he was "all for the changes, I approve of them" before adding: "There's been no deception. The idea is very good. It's really for my benefit." It was the only thing for his benefit yesterday.
As he stood by the tunnel at the end he already looked a broken man, leading a team of broken players. Keegan talked about "a genuine bunch who gave everything they've got", but he must have been watching a different game. Against an Arsenal side far from their own eviscerating best, they were easily dismissed.
"People with common sense know it's not going to happen overnight," Keegan said of the dramatic turnaround in fortunes he is expected to perform. "Sometimes a new manager coming in gives an uplift but that hasn't happened with us," he admitted. It was undoubtedly honest, but also a depressing truth for the Newcastle supporters .
It was a dismal performance with square pegs in round holes and another hollow display from Michael Owen. Arsène Wenger, in attempting to praise Newcastle's effort, said all they lacked was a cutting edge. Isn't that what Owen is supposed to provide he was asked, which prompted an immediate backtrack from the Arsenal manager who realised the controversy he was about to court.
But he was right. Excuses that opportunities are not being created for Owen are false. He is not providing the effort, too often taking the wrong option which is what Arsenal did, also, for much of a first-half until Emmanuel Adebayor, Newcastle's tormentor in the FA Cup only four days previously, fired in a bullet header from Mathieu Flamini's whipped cross. It was his 19th goal of the season and his ninth in only seven games. "He's a dream to have," Wenger said of the Togolese striker.
Before then he had, however, volleyed wastefully over although he also almost latched onto a bizarre backheel by Shay Given which conceded a corner. Newcastle were indebted to some resilient defending from Steven Taylor and, for a while, Stephen Carr, but that eventually crumbled, too, as confidence dissolved.
Even the re-introduction of Joey Barton, allowed to play after his bail restrictions were eased, made no difference. Instead, Keegan was left complaining about an errant off-side decision as Owen finally threatened to break through and the failure to raise a flag as the substitute Nicklas Bendtner cushioned a long pass forward to Cesc Fabregas who thrashed home Arsenal's third goal in the dying minutes.
Before that came Arsenal's second goal and Keegan was right to call it a "wonder" strike from Flamini. Indeed it was. The French midfielder collected Fabregas's short pass, took a touch and from the angle struck a superb right-footed shot from 25 yards that fizzed beyond Given.
Wenger will see what Manchester United and Chelsea do tonight. "It's important for us to get ourselves in a position in April when we are head to head," he said. Keegan, too, used to have those kind of days, but now it was more an expression of relief when he said: "You don't play Arsenal every week twice and they've got the confidence we lack at the moment."
No confidence and no consolation either. After a foul by Fabregas, Newcastle were presented with a free-kick just outside the area. Nicky Butt took it but his curling shot struck the bar and then Manuel Almunia's gloves before being pawed away. In injury-time William Gallas lost the flight of the ball, was turned by the substitute Shola Ameobi, but his shot was as lame as his side's performance and Almunia easily saved.
"This is a great club," Keegan said of Newcastle after a third defeat this season to Arsenal – one league game and two cup competitions - "it's not packaged right at the moment". Given the feebleness of this display, it's got no protection at all.
Goals: Adebayor (40) 1-0; Flamini (72) 2-0; Fabregas (80) 3-0.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Senderos, Gallas, Clichy; Hleb, Flamini, Fabregas, Diaby (Gilberto, 77); Eduardo (Bendtner, 71), Adebayor (Walcott, 82). Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Hoyte, Walcott.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Taylor, Cacapa, N'Zogbia; Milner (Ameobi, 73), Butt, Rozenhal (Barton, 57), Duff; Smith, Owen. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Edgar, LuaLua.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Arsenal Hleb; Newcastle Capaca, N'Zogbia, Owen.
Man of the match: Flamini.
Attendance: 60,127.Reuse content