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Match Report: Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle (Arsenal Fan's Perspective)

Tuesday 13th March 2012
Arsenal left it late to claim a fifth successive league victory and move three points clear of Chelsea, and just one behind arch-rivals Tottenham on another remarkable night of football at Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners came flying out of the blocks and should have taken an early lead. Theo Walcott darted down the right and delivered an exquisite cross that Robin Van Persie should have buried, but the Dutchman, unusually, failed to connect with it.

It was the visitors who opened the scoring, however. On 14 minutes, Gabriel Obertan slipped the ball into Hatem Ben Arfa on the right, who cut inside and fired the ball inside Wojciech Szczesny's near post. A fine goal but the defending could certainly have been better. But Arsenal didn't drop their heads, and grabbed an equaliser little more than 30 seconds after conceding.

Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky exchanged passes on the right before Walcott raced away and delivered an inviting low cross into the area. Van Persie's first touch was exquisite, as was his next to roll away from his marker. The third touch was a clinical finish into the corner. Just the response the hosts needed, with The Gunners captain's 33rd goal of the season.

Van Persie nearly doubled his tally shortly after but fired over after good work by Rosicky. After that, it became difficult to engineer any clear-cut chances as Newcastle had built a solid defensive wall, fully intending to take a point home. Tim Krul's ridiculous time-wasting on goal kicks was a true example of this lack of ambition.

The biggest compliment you could pay the excellent Walcott was that Newcastle left-back Davide Santon was substituted at half-time, the Italian unable to deal with the jet-heeled winger. The hosts came out fighting in the second period, determined to get the points and close the ever-shrinking gap between themselves and Tottenham.

Walcott again delivered a fine ball from the flank which Rosicky met with a fierce header that stung the palms of Krul. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struggled to get into the game and make his usual devastating impact, but came close to doing just that when he chested down a difficult ball and fired a sublime volley narrowly over the bar. The chances were coming at a more rapid rate in this half.

Mikel Arteta then swept a dangerous ball into the box, which Van Persie met but fired straight at the keeper. The dangerous Rosicky then created a moment of genius for his skipper, twisting and turning before delivering a delicious reverse pass into the left channel. The Dutchman, so deadly even from these tight angles, was denied by the legs of Krul.

Again the Czech midfielder was involved, battling to retain possession on the right before feeding Walcott once again. Walcott did everything right, feigning a cross to get away from Fabricio Coloccini before cutting the ball back beautifully for the prime-positioned Rosicky, who screwed the ball horribly wide.

Arsenal continued to probe and Van Persie went close again after excellent work by Kieran Gibbs on the left. On another day, he would have had a hat-trick and the game would have been sealed. Then substitute Gervinho missed a sitter after Mikel Arteta's corner fell for him at the back post, and the fans began to wonder whether it was going to be ‘one of those days.'

Five minutes were added on, in so small part due to Krul's lax attitude. In one final throw of the dice, Walcott clipped the ball to the back post. Van Persie and Aaron Ramsey contested the ball and it landed kindly for Thomas Vermaelen to turn home with his right foot. The Emirates erupted with noise and a bundle ensued with fantastic scenes that demonstrated the importance of the goal to the players as well as the fans.

What followed was a regrettable scuffle, as tensions between Krul and Van Persie reached boiling point. But as Gary Neville correctly said in his post-match punditry, that's the type of reaction you want from your captain.

Manager Arsene Wenger has talked a lot about Arsenal's mental strength over the years but it has never really come to fruition, at least not since they last won a trophy. This set of players however, whilst undoubtedly not the best in terms of ability, have shown far more character and belief. Witness the reactions of Vermaelen, Van Persie, Szczesny and Sagna at full-time, or Rosicky and Andre Santos on the bench. There is a genuine affection for the club, which has not been seen enough in recent seasons.

Little more than a fortnight ago, Arsenal fans were taunted by their local rivals as a 10 point deficit had opened up between the North London clubs. Following this result, the gap is down to one and Arsenal are well and truly breathing down the necks of their noisy neighbours. With ten intriguing games still to play, anything could happen.

Man of the Match: Theo Walcott. The much maligned forward delivered an exceptional performance, as a thoroughly effective outlet for his teammates, claiming two assists in the process.
Tom Pyman
Tom is a journalism student at the University of Sheffield and, more importantly, a passionate Arsenal fan. Too many players have come and gone to adopt a favourite but if he had to name one, it'd be difficult to look past Thierry Henry. Or Dennis Bergkamp. Or Freddie Ljungberg. Maybe not Park Chu-Young. He used to regularly attend home games but living three hours away has now made getting to the Emirates every other week a bit tricky. Follow Tom on Twitter @gooner_tom

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