Arsenal survived being pegged back three times by Newcastle United to finally prevail in emphatic fashion, 7-3, in a dramatic encounter at the Emirates.
Playing a Newcastle side decimated by injuries and suspensions, Arsenal repeatedly looked poised to take control of the game as Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski gave the Gunners three separate leads. But on each occasion, Arsenal failed to stamp their authority on the game and Newcastle showed admirable endeavor to equalize each time with a double from Demba Ba sandwiching Sylvain Marveaux’s close-range finish.
But Arsenal finally ended Newcastle’s resistance with some fine attacking play as Walcott completed his hat-trick and Oliver Giroud came off the bench to score a brace.
The score line was somewhat cruel on a Newcastle side, especially as it came in a similar manner to their 4-3 reverse against Manchester United on Boxing Day. By the closing stages, Newcastle players were clearly run ragged having played twice in four days while Arsenal had been afforded the luxury of a break with their Boxing Day match having been postponed. Yet, there was still little excuse for the defending that was lax throughout and was virtually non-existent by the closing stages.
Newcastle came out pressing their opponents well, but their high defensive line cost them 20 minutes in as Walcott again auditioned for a regular place up front. Podolski found Walcott breaking clear just onside by the slimmest of margins and the England man cut in from the left before dispatching a composed finish into the far corner.
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But Walcott was far from faultless in a striking role and he missed an equally fine chance as he scuffed a shot straight at Tim Krul.
And the teams would go into the half-time break level as Newcastle mustered an equalizer out of nowhere. Jack Wilshere committed the cardinal sin of turning his back on a free-kick as Ba’s strike struck him on the back and deflected into the net.
Both sides had chances to take the lead at the start of the second half before Oxlade-Chamberlain put Arsenal back in front after being afforded too much space to drive a low shot through the legs of Davide Santon and into the bottom corner.
After Walcott had missed a chance on the break to extend Arsenal’s lead, Newcastle tied things up once more. Bacary Sagna stood off Gabriel Obertan and the pacey winger got to the byline to strike a low cross that Laurent Koscielny failed to deal with and Marveaux tapped home at the far post.
Within five minutes Arsenal were back in front. Wilshere atoned for his part in Ba’s goal as he burst into the box and dug out a cross that deflected off the head of Fabricio Coloccini and struck the cross bar before failing to Podolski to head into the unguarded net.
Once more, Arsenal were unable to close out the game as Newcastle struck another quick-fire equalizer. The defending was again poor as Marveaux had time to turn and pick out a cross to Ba at the far post who easily escaped the attentions of Kieran Gibbs to grab his 13th league goal of the season.
As bad as Arseneal’s defending was, Newcastle were about to make it pale in comparison. First Walcott was afforded the luxury of receiving Gibbs’ pull back in the box before turning and poking the ball into the top corner to make it 4-3.
The result was then put beyond doubt six minutes from time as Walcott supplied a superb cross for Giroud to dive and head home from six yards.
But Arsenal were not done and Giroud grabbed his second as he displayed some nice control into the box before firing low into the net. Walcott then crowned a memorable day for him as he secured his hat-trick with a goal that showcased Newcastle’s failure to compete late on.
Watched by the man he hopes to emulate, Thierry Henry, Walcott skipped through challenges to cut in from the left and survived a tackle from Cheick Tiote to get back to his feet before dinking the ball over Krul to complete the rout.