Eye-catching second-half goals from Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud in the space of four minutes secured Arsenal a 4-1 win over a lackluster Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium. Badly needing a victory after a chastening defeat at Stoke City last week that brought fresh hostility from his club’s own fans toward Arsene Wenger, Giroud’s header had sent Arsenal on their way with a 15th minute towering header.
Both teams were missing a host of players, but the absences told greater on Newcastle. Despite, having won six of their last eight matches in the Premier League to sit level on points with Arsenal coming into the contest, Alan Pardew’s men offered precious little resistance and for a long time were the perfect opponents for the hosts. Given time and space to play, Arsenal can look as good as any team in the league. They showed that here in a decisive spell early in the second half.
Alexis Sanchez, as for the opening goal, was involved in the second. But the acclaim went to Cazorla, who took the Chilean’s pass inside the box, hurdled the challenge of Fabricio Coloccini and executed a sublime dink from a tight angle into the far side of the net. Soon the lead was 3-0. A swift break ended with Hector Bellerin -- a repeated threat going forward in his third and most impressive Premier League start -- slid in a low cross and Giroud improvised a gorgeous flicked finish with the outside of his left boot.
The win, secured by Cazorla’s penalty late on after Ayoze Perez’s reply, lifts Arsenal above Southampton and into fifth place in the Premier League, now just two points behind the occupier of the final Champions-League-qualifying berth, West Ham. That it was achieved without the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny, as well as a host of more long-term injuries, makes it all the sweeter. And chants of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger” that rang around the Emirates at the final whistle reinforced what a contrasting week this had been for Arsenal’s boss.
Yet, for all the quality of Arsenal’s play at times in the second half, it was hardly the type of win that will convince those with long-terms concerns about Wenger’s leadership that the problems have been swept away. Newcastle’s solitary goal, which temporarily breathed fresh doubt into the result, was a case in point. Ayoze Perez was allowed a completely free header at the near post to head in Jack Colback’s free-kick to bring memories of a calamitous collapse from 3-0 up against Anderlecht back to the surface.
There was no repeat, and Cazorla’s cheeky “Panenka” penalty after Paul Dummett clumsily brought down Danny Welbeck in the box, added extra sheen to the scoreline. But the opposition was close to none existent. While the likes of Steven Taylor and goalkeepers Tim Krul and Rob Elliot had been added to Newcastle’s list of unavailable players, it was the missing dynamism and quality of midfielder Mousa Sissoko that was most keenly felt.
Newcastle were flat from the off. Per Mertesacker headed onto the crossbar inside 10 minutes and shortly after Arsenal were ahead with a goal that epitomized Newcastle’s performance. Coloccini gave the ball away sloppily and then allowed Sanchez space to get in a cross that enabled Giroud to rise highest in the center of the box and head past Jak Alnwick, making his first Premier League start in goal. Arsenal were unlucky not to almost immediately be two goals up when Welbeck was harshly adjudged to have brought down Daryl Janmaat before sticking the ball into the net.
But Arsenal then appeared to sink to Newcastle’s level, giving the remainder of the first half the feel of a meaningless end-of-season contest. Newcastle almost took advantage of the lethargy when Yoan Gouffran and then Papiss Cisse were allowed back-to-back efforts on goal by a patchwork Arsenal defense and Wojciech Szczesny had to showcase some smart reactions.
Perhaps that was the warning Arsenal need, certainly they lifted their game considerably in the second half. By the hour mark, the increased pace of their passing had led to magnificent finishes from Cazorla and Giroud. Perez’s response soon after temporarily halted Arsenal’s momentum, but Newcastle never looked capable of rousing themselves in a game that afterward had Pardew pondering the strength of his squad.
Arsenal will surely not succeed long term without their defensive options being bolstered, but it was good enough on this day. Gibbs and Cazorla missed the target with volleys, but the manner of the Spaniard’s penalty two minutes from time was illustrative of the swagger that had developed in Arsenal’s game in the second half. If nothing else, the confidence of Wenger’s men should be boosted considerably ahead of next week’s trip to Liverpool.