Arsenal move one point behind Spurs after injury-time winner
Premier League: Arsenal 2 Newcastle 1
Thomas Vermaelen struck deep into injury-time as Arsenal triumphed over Newcastle to move one point behind Tottenham.
Arsene Wenger’s side initially went behind to Hatem Ben Arfa’s 14th-minute opener, but were level within a matter of seconds through Robin van Persie.
The hosts went on to dominate as United struggled to handle Van Persie, Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky, who capped a two-year contract extension with a fine performance.
Van Persie, Rosicky and the substitute Gervinho all missed glorious chances in the second half, and it seemed that the Gunners were going to be denied a deserved victory.
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But, with five minutes of added time ticking away, Vermaelen raced forward to join in a last-ditch break and fired home from close range to send the Emirates into ecstasy.
Arsenal were on top from the very start as Walcott latched onto Bacary Sagna’s flicked header, ran at Fabricio Coloccini down the right flank and delivered a sumptuous low cross into the box.
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A stretching, sliding Van Persie seemed certain to score from close range, but he somehow failed to get a killer touch as the ball rolled across the goalmouth.
Moments later, the Dutchman was allowed to collect Sagna’s long ball inside the box and capitalise on the indecision between Mike Williamson and Tim Krul to prod at goal, only to be denied by his sprawling countryman in the Newcastle net.
Walcott’s growing confidence was clear as he took on three United players down the touch-line, bursting past two opponents before being shrugged aside by Davide Santon.
However, Arsenal suddenly they went behind against the run of play as Vermaelen lazily gifted the ball to Cheick Tiote.
Suddenly Ben Arfa was running at the back-pedalling Belgian defender on the right side of the penalty box, and the tricky Frenchman skipped inside before beating Wojchiech Szczesny at his near post.
It was an undeserved lead with Newcastle’s first sniff of goal – and Wenger’s boys immediately rectified matters.
Seconds after the restart, Rosicky freed Walcott, who crossed for Van Persie again - and this time the Gunners’ captain found the net, swivelling past Williamson before finishing past Krul.
Rosicky and Walcott combined again shortly afterwards to free Van Persie, who fired over from 20 yards, and the skipper then whipped a free kick into Krul’s midriff.
Arsenal survived a brief scare as Jonas Gutierrez’s snapshot deflected wide off Laurent Koscielny, and Rosicky drew appreciative applause from the Emirates faithful after tackling back to halt a Newcastle break – but Arsenal went into the interval as the more likely winners.
Rosicky picked up where he had left off after the break with a clever flick in the midfield, before racing into the box to meet Walcott’s cross with a glancing header which forced a save from Krul.
Arsenal had largely been relying on a small handful of players up to this point, but the supporting cast began to threaten.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain volleyed ambitiously over the bar before teeing up Mikel Arteta, whose 20-yard effort was bravely charged down – and the Spaniard then crossed for Van Persie, who shot at Krul from 10 yards.
The magical Rosicky delighted the home crowd once again, twisting and turning outside the box before playing a delightful reverse ball to his captain, who shot from a narrow angle and was denied by his countryman once again.
Unfortunately, the classy Czech then missed Arsenal’s best chance since half-time as Walcott raced to the by-line, skipped inside the sliding Coloccini and rolled the ball back to his team-mate.
The net was gaping as Rosicky shot first time from eight yards out, but his horribly skewed side-footed effort slid well wide of goal.
That was his final meaningful contribution as Wenger introduced Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey – and Rosicky departed to a standing ovation.
The chances kept coming as Kieran Gibbs won possession on the edge of Newcastle’s box and fed Van Persie, but he rifled his shot well wide from a good position.
Next it was Gervinho’s turn to miss a sitter as Arteta’s awkward free kick made it all the way through to the back post, and the surprised Ivorian scuffed wide from five yards.
With injury-time approaching, Vermaelen sent a towering header at goal, but Krul was on hand yet again to flick the ball over his bar.
The tension rose as the fourth official signalled five minutes of injury-time, and Newcastle seemed to be heading for a point.
But, with mere seconds remaining, Arsenal broke from the edge of their own box and, when Walcott’s cross caused mayhem in the box, Vermaelen slammed the loose ball into the net to grab all three points for the Gunners at the death.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Song, Rosicky (Ramsey 76), Arteta, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Gervinho 68), Van Persie