Arsenal strengthened their grip on the final Champions League place with a startlingly comfortable 3-0 victory over a lackluster Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium.
Everton’s defeat to Southampton on Saturday had given Arsenal the chance to take a four-point advantage with just two games of the season remaining. And that target never looked in danger of not being achieved from the moment Laurent Koscielny touched in a free-kick midway through the opening half.
Newcastle’s defending at that set-piece was symbolic of the general malaise that once again permeated their performance. Alan Pardew was back on the touchline after his seven-game ban for head-butting Hull City’s David Meyler, but there was no rediscovery of the impetus that his team has been lacking ever since Yohan Cabaye was sold in January.
Mesut Ozil effectively made the result safe with his first goal since returning from injury just before half-time. While the playmaker was offside when turning the ball in from close range, Newcastle could have little complaint after another episode of catastrophic defending. If there was any doubt, Olivier Giroud headed in midway through the second half by which point the match had already ended as a contest.
After the gloom that surrounded Arsenal following a 3-0 defeat to Everton just three weeks ago, Arsene Wenger’s side deserve much credit for the way they have responded. The return to fitness of Ozil and Aaron Ramsey have made a big difference and Arsenal now need just one win from remaining fixtures at home to West Brom and away to Norwich City in order to secure a 17th straight season in the Champions League. For Newcastle, the decline has now taken them to six straight defeats and, despite remaining in the top half of the table, Pardew may ultimately find that his return to the touchline is short-lived.