Arsenal are in a groove. It has surely come too late to have Manchester United quivering but Arsène Wenger's team stretched their unbeaten Premier League run to 16 games last night. That Manuel Almunia was key to the latest victory shows that this was not one of those scintillating all-out attacking displays, but it contained a devastating 10-minute spell midway through the second half when Arsenal floored a hitherto spirited Newcastle.
Goals from Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri crushed Newcastle's resistance. That their goalkeeper, Steve Harper, was also prominent revealed that Arsenal developed as a force over the 90 minutes.
Newcastle contributed to their downfall with injuries to defenders Sebastien Bassong and Steven Taylor that meant three different central pairings were employed. But for an hour, as Wenger conceded, Newcastle were robust and combative. Ultimately, however, they were to pay heavily for Obafemi Martins' missed 23rd minute penalty - saved by Almunia. Shades of Rome in the Champions' League said Wenger.
Martins later redeemed himself with a sweet volleyed equaliser but having slipped into the bottom three before kick-off, that's where Newcastle will remain for the international fortnight. They are two points off fourth-bottom Blackburn with eight games left and owner Mike Ashley, who sported a grimace as the game petered out, was seen walking towards the home dressing room afterwards.
If it was to say "well done for 60 minutes", then that would be understandable. "Newcastle put us under pressure in the first half and they could have been in front," said Wenger, who added he was surprised Michael Owen was dropped to the bench. "But I must say that Martins and [Peter] Lovenkrands were lively."
Wenger had popped into the press room before the game to check on the news from Fulham and had smiled when he heard it, but he admitted that the possibility of catching United is "a chance in a billion." He also said: "You never know."
Arsenal are10 points behind the champions, who have a game in hand, and the win might have more ramifications for fourth place than the title. Aston Villa go to Liverpool today. "It's in our hands now," Wenger said.
Newcastle United would love to be able to say such a thing. But Martins' squandered penalty is emblematic of a traumatic season.
Compared to the previous outing at Hull, this was a vast improvement though and Owen watched on as an energetic home effort got underway. Damien Duff, Lovenkrands and Martins were bursting consistently through the visiting defence.
Yet in an end-to-end affair, Steven Taylor also made vital blocks from Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie.
But Bassong's 38th minute departure had implications in the 57th when Bendtner rose unchallenged to head home. Martins' equaliser turned out to be an interruption. Diaby and Nasri rattled in two more. Owen did come on but the game was gone.
Referee: Mark Halsey
Man of the match: Diaby
Match rating: 7/10