Football has thrown up a few tales of the unexpected, but Arsenal's failure to win this game truly defies all logic.
Further goals appeared inevitable when Arsenal led 4-0 after humiliating Newcastle in a first half that sparked a walkout by some disenchanted home supporters. Yet no one expected Newcastle to score any of them, let alone manage four goals that enabled them to pull off the greatest comeback in Premier League history. Based on Arsenal's first-half domination, such a turnaround was not even a plausible prospect when the visitors were reduced to 10 men by the dismissal of Abou Diaby in the 50th minute.
However, we should have sensed this was not destined to be a normal 90 minutes. Not when Joey Barton, a man trying to discard his reputation as the Premier's League's No 1 villain, is left bemused by Diaby's behaviour. The Arsenal midfielder pursued Barton and pushed him to the ground after being on the receiving end of a typically aggressive, but legal, tackle. Barton said: "Diaby has taken a bad touch and I have to go and win it. If I don't go for the ball, my manager, my team-mates and obviously the fans are going to nail me.
"I have had a look at it again and I just don't understand the guy's reaction. He is going to probably cop a couple of weeks' fine off Arsène Wenger because it has probably cost them from going on and winning the game quite comfortably. But football is a game where you have to take advantage of situations and we still had a lot of work to do after Diaby got sent off."
Minutes earlier, Barton had been in the dressing room fearing that Arsenal might rack up double-figures.
"They were that good in the first half," said Barton. "But momentum changes. There was a little bit of a lack of discipline in their side and we got a goal and the Geordie nation got behind us. I think we were unlucky not to win the game in the end which is incredible because we were 4-0 down at half-time looking to keep it underneath a cricket score."
The comeback happened, though, because referee Phil Dowd awarded two debatable penalties that Barton converted, and Leon Best also scored before a splendid equaliser from Cheick Tioté. "At half-time it was a very angry dressing room," Tioté said.
Alan Pardew, who sensed before the game that his Newcastle players were deflated at the end of a week when Andy Carroll was sold, had an extra reason to be unhappy at the first-half performance since he had organised his first outing in the party city of Newcastle for Saturday evening. Pardew said: "I don't know whether people are going to buy me a drink or throw them at me. That's the sort of week it's been.
"It's been a tough week to be a football manager here – a tough, tough week and the toughest I've had here, as you can imagine. But at the end of it, I'm elated. It's just a weird feeling."
No more weird, though, than the emotions of the Arsenal manager Wenger, who now knows they would have moved to within two point of leaders Manchester United if they had not collapsed in such spectacular style after goals from Robin van Persie, who scored twice, Theo Walcott and Johan Djourou in the opening 26 minutes.
Wenger said: "It is never over. You can concede one goal and the crowd gets behind the team. You do not play with the same purpose going forward and I am long enough in the job to know that."
Arsenal remain unbeaten in 2011. "What does it say about my team? It says that we have played 12 games since the first of January and they have played outstandingly well, but to go down to 10 men had a psychological impact. And certainly a physical one as well. But in the second half you must say that we were really unlucky with some decisions," he said.
Scorers: Newcastle Barton pen 68, pen 83, Best 75, Tioté 87. Arsenal Walcott 1, Djourou 3, Van Persie 10, 26.
Subs: Newcastle Ranger (Lovenkrands, 73), Guthrie (Best, 89). Arsenal Squillaci (Djourou, 48), Rosicky (Arshavin, 69), Eboué (Walcott, 79).
Booked: Newcastle Enrique, Nolan. Arsenal Szczesny, Sagna, Eboué. Sent off: Arsenal Diaby.
Man of the match Barton Match rating 10/10.
Possession Newcastle 55% Arsenal 45%.
Attempts on target Newcastle 8 Arsenal 10.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire) Att 51,561.