Newcastle vs Arsenal result: Five things we learned as Gunners’ top-four hopes unravel

Newcastle 2-0 Arsenal: Tottenham now only need a point against rock-bottom Norwich to seal fourth

<p>An own goal from Ben White and Bruno Guimares’ fired finish gave Newcastle a 2-0 win </p>

An own goal from Ben White and Bruno Guimares’ fired finish gave Newcastle a 2-0 win

Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League suffered a perhaps fatal blow as Newcastle United took a deserved 2-0 home win.

Defeat leaves Mikel Arteta’s side two points behind rivals Tottenham, who possess a vastly superior goal difference and need only a draw against Norwich on the final day to be sure of a top four finish.

The visitors produced a flat performance at St James’s Park, hustled by Newcastle’s high press and battling to contain a direct, dynamic forward line

Though Arsenal, very much on the back foot, managed to escape the first half without conceding, Ben White turned a Joelinton cross into his own net soon after the interval, and Bruno Guimares slammed home a second late on to put the result beyond doubt.

Here are five things we learned from Newcastle’s win:

Mikel Arteta’s centre-back gamble only adds to Arsenal nerves

In an ideal world, Mikel Arteta might have liked to have been able to start neither Ben White nor Gabriel Magalhaes for this encounter, with both centre-halves appearing to be some way short of full fitness. But after Rob Holding’s dismissal in the North London Derby, Arteta had little choice but to pair his ailing two and hope that they could survive

Newcastle tugged at those ailing muscles in the opening quarter of the game, forcing White and Gabriel into hasty, regular retreat in pursuit of both ball and, often, Callum Wilson. White was booked early on after clipping the heels of the Newcastle forward, straining to regain position, and Gabriel’s remonstrations at the delayed raising of the offside flag perhaps hinted at a player not keen on unnecessary rearward chasing.

It added to a sense of nervousness in the Arsenal performance that pervaded through the side. Aaron Ramsdale jangled in goal, fortunate that one blocked clearance did not ricochet for goal and clearing inaccurately in a panic on several other occasions. The Newcastle press harried and pushed Arsenal back.

Takehiro Tomiyasu’s twinging hamstring forced the right-back off, forcing Arteta to introduce Cedric Soares and tasking the Portuguese full-back with handling a fizzing Allan Saint-Maximin, who had tormented Tomiyasu before the right-back was forced off.

Newcastle pounce on right-sided woes

For all Newcastle’s early dominance, the hosts struggled to create clear-cut openings, with Arsenal scrambling back into defensive shape reasonably well. Their best sighting in the first 45 minutes fell to Saint-Maximin, who was denied by an excellent near-post save from a diving Ramsdale.

But they did not have to wait long to find the opener after the resumption. It was little surprise it came down Arsenal’s troubled right side. Joelinton burst away from Mohamed Elneny to get down the touchline and fizzed a low cross in that was diverted beyond Ramsdale by a lunging White, who had been out-sprinted by Wilson.

Joelinton has been transformed under Eddie Howe, now looking entirely at home in a role better suited to an at-times misunderstood skillset. The quality of the job that Howe has done at Newcastle is tough to parse out, inextricably linked as it is to the completion of the Saudi-backed takeover and subsequent January recruitment. But, to give Howe some due credit, he has embedded a number of canny signings well, and the greater role clarity and certainty he has given players like Joelinton has been influential in allowing Newcastle to climb the table.

Arsenal still lack leaders to grasp game

The run-in has reminded Mikel Arteta of a persistent problem for his side, with a distinct lack of players capable of grasping the occasion and seizing control. Leadership is a curious quality but there is a brittleness to the spine of the Arsenal team that may not be easily solved.

While strides have been made this season under Arteta, with the emergence of Odegaard as a leader surely welcome for the Arsenal manager, there is a need to infuse more experienced, forthright characters around which a youthful squad can be moulded.

It is clear that his is a side of good quality and exceptional potential, but even with so much at stake, the second goal always seemed more likely be scored into Ramsdale’s goal than Martin Dubravka’s. Bruno Guimares’s fired finish after another defensive lapse from Arsenal ensured it did.

Ben White reacts to Arsenal’s loss

Arsenal hopeful for a miracle from a Norwich side with nothing to lose

It is, now, Tottenham’s to lose, and Antonio Conte’s side could hardly ask for more palatable final-day fare. Relegated Norwich have little to play for bar, perhaps, the ignominy of finishing bottom, and even a draw would be enough to ensure Spurs will be playing Champions League football next year.

All that Arsenal can do is handle their business against Everton who, depending on results later this week, may still be in the relegation scrap. The final day can throw up result oddities - and it is that for which Arsenal must now, surely, hope.

Strong summer needed to ensure potential is realised

If, as now appears likely, it is to be Tottenham rather than Arsenal who take fourth spot, then Arteta should regard it as a great missed opportunity. Qualification was in their hands in a year in which they did not have to contend with European football, and they have let it slip from their grasp.

There is plenty to be optimistic about, of course, but a relatively thin squad must be deepened in several key areas, particularly with a Europa League campaign to also plot. There are also the other clubs to consider, where improvements can readily be foreseen. Erik ten Hag faces twelve labours in transforming Manchester United, but even in a season of malaise under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, they will not finish far behind Arsenal. Spurs should, Daniel Levy investment permitting, kick-on further under a driven Conte, and while Chelsea’s future appears uncertain, they will surely again be in the mix.

Which makes this a vital summer for Arsenal, too. Arteta was rewarded with an extension to his contract ahead of the final run of fixtures but his side have produced two of their worst performances of the season in a most untimely manner. Perhaps this will serve as a harsh lesson.

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