By Richard Clarke
Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League with a handsome 3-0 win over Newcastle on Tuesday night.
Emmanuel Adebayor gave Arsène Wenger's side a first-half lead with his ninth goal in his last seven games. As they had in Saturday's FA Cup tie, Kevin Keegan's men made Arsenal work hard but Mathieu Flamini ended the argument with a 30-yard thunderbolt 19 minutes from time. Cesc Fabregas completed the scoring soon afterwards with his 12th goal of the season.
So, after that sorry defeat six days ago at White Hart Lane, a pair of 3-0 wins over Newcastle have put Arsenal back on their feet.
And those victories have now shifted the focus squarely on Old Trafford. Saturday's gave Arsenal an FA Cup Fifth Round tie at Manchester United and, on Wednesday night, Sir Alex Ferguson's side entertain a Portsmouth side who have been productive travellers this season.
It is now their turn to play catch-up.
Wenger made four changes from the weekend game. The rested Manuel Almunia and Bacary Sagna came back for Jens Lehmann and Justin Hoyte. Theo Walcott dropped to the bench while Eduardo stepped up. Tomas Rosicky, who had hobbled off after nine minutes at the weekend, was replaced by Alex Hleb.
There was almost another early casualty this evening. Gael Clichy went thundering forward only to be brought upended by Steven Taylor. The move broke down and eventually Abou Diaby was clattered by James Milner. The Frenchman was stretchered off and needed a treatment for a couple of minutes. Fortunately he was able to continue.
In the 17th minute Diaby was in the wars again. This time while stooping to nod Hleb's cross over the bar, he got a blameless boot from Nicky Butt on the top of the head.
The intervening minutes had belonged to Arsenal albeit without the incisiveness we had seen in the second half on Saturday.
Eduardo and Adebayor had both seen glimpses of goal but nothing more. It appeared that Newcastle were going to be less expansive than they had in the cup game.
In fact the closest Arsenal came in the first half-hour was when Adebayor chased down Taylor's backpass and Shay Given, standing virtually on the goal-line, casually back-heeled the ball out for a corner!
However, in the 31st minute, the home side created a genuine chance. Sagna got to the byline and cut back a wonderful low cross that was cleared away milliseconds before the sliding Eduardo could make contact inches from goal.
Arsenal were improving. Eight minutes from the break, Flamini found space close to the right-hand byline. His measured chip across goal was met with a thunderous volley from Adebayor. It whistled inches over the bar.
That turned out to be a 'dry-run' for the opening goal. Four minutes later one-touch football from Hleb and Fabregas sent Flamini to virtually the same spot. This time his cross was flatter and met by Adebayor's downward header.
And the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Newcastle were now reeling. Before half time, Hleb tried to dance around Given and then dithered when he should have let fly.
However Milner did send a deflected shot into the netting at the other end. It was a close as Newcastle got all half.
And they were to have another decent effort after the restart when Alan Smith got a glimpse of goal when Arsenal failed to clear their lines. However his shot was weak.
Their small spell of pressure did not last. Diaby created some space then cracked an effort wide and, as on Saturday, Adebayor began to make his muscular presence felt.
In the 63rd minute he chested down Sagna's cross for Flamini but the Frenchman's shot was smothered. The Togolese striker then set up the same player for a low drive.
Flamini had been enjoying one of his best games in recent months. But, although the 23-year-old's work-rate is something to admire, it is rare for him to fire a 30-yard piledriver into the top corner of the net. But that is what he did tonight after collecting Fabregas' pass 19 minutes from time. An incredible strike.
The Spaniard completed the scoring eight minutes later. Substitute Nicklas Bendtner controlled a long punt forward inside the area and found Fabregas with the simplest of passes. His finish was clinical.
Again Newcastle had played a full part in the game but were on the end of a sound beating. Three minutes from time they won a free-kick on the edge of the area, Butt took it but his effort bounced back off the bar and Sagna cleared.
That, and Shola Ameobi's injury-time trickler into the arms of Almunia, summed up their night.
Arsenal, however, are back on form and back on top.
- Flamini Goal!
- Diaby 77
- Hleb Yellow Card
- Fabregas Goal!
- Adebayor 83 Goal!
- Eduardo 72
- Silva 77
- Walcott 83
- Bendtner 72
- Cacapa Yellow Card
- Rozehnal 57
- N'Zogbia Yellow Card
- Milner 74
- Owen Yellow Card
- Barton 57
- Ameobi 74