By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Theo Walcott grabbed a hat-trick as Arsenal smashed seven goals past Newcastle on a crazy Saturday evening at Emirates Stadium.
The England international, playing in his new role as a striker, hit his side’s first, fourth and seventh in an incredible game. He also set up an important strike for Olivier Giroud.
Walcott’s heroics will rightly hog the headlines but, for 70 minutes, this game was teetering on a knife-edge.
Three times Arsenal took the lead, three times Newcastle equalised.
The goalscorers were, in order, Walcott, Ba, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Marveaux, Podolski and Ba.
Walcott’s second gave the home side the lead in the 74th minute then Giroud grabbed a brace inside three minutes to kill the game.
Walcott snatched that treble in injury time and the Frenchman would have grabbed a share of the matchball but his last-gasp shot hit the woodwork.
This was a mad, mad game which might look better in the record books than it did on the day.
But this is was Arsenal’s fourth Premier League victory in succession and, as a consequence, they are back up to fifth.
And, of course, it was superb entertainment.
Otherwise this was the team that had beaten Wigan on December 22 and had then missed out on action while the rest of the Premier League were playing on Boxing Day.
Of course, Newcastle had nearly sprung a surprise that afternoon when they had led three times at Old Trafford before losing 4-3 to Manchester United.
Alan Pardew’s side were yet to win away in the Premier League this season and, at kick-off, were just three points above the relegation places.
But as they so nearly proved in this fixture last season, Newcastle’s London hoodoo had long since been broken.
That said, on this evening, only the latter stages of the first half would prove that as the opening stages would belong to Arsenal.
In the first minute, Wilshere sprinted out of defence and cushioned a pass into the path of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who slid a shot wide.
Then wonderful movement from the home side set up Santi Cazorla for a burst to the byline. However his clipped cross was plucked out of the air by Tim Krul.
It took Newcastle some time to settle but the game would have had a very different complexion had an unmarked Ba headed home from Sylvain Marveaux instead of nodding over.
In the 20th minute Arsenal would make them pay. Podolski threaded an inviting through-ball for Walcott to chase down the left. The Englishman collected, narrowed the angle as best he could and then steadied himself.
Krul’s positioning was sound and Walcott’s margin for error was small but he chose his spot, low just inside the far post, and found it with an expert sidefoot finish.
It was his 12th strike of the season, his sixth in the Premier League, and perhaps one of the classiest.
Eight minutes from the break, the striker skipped past the final defender from another Podolski pass but, this time, his touch was not sure enough to beat Krul.
Newcastle had been quietly regrouping since the goal and they nearly restored parity in spectacular fashion when Szczesny had to punch away a swerving long-range thunderbolt from Check Tiote.
That strike might have deserved a goal but their eventual equaliser, in the 43rd minute, was fortunate. Bacary Sagna fouled Gabriel Obertan, Ba’s free-kick deflected off the head of Wilshere and wrong-footed Szczesny.
Newcastle could have completed the turnaround before the whistle but Szczesny saved well from Marveaux’s breakaway drive. From the corner, Ba nodded over.
At the break, Arsenal deserved to be leading but, in truth, they could have been trailing.
The home side would restore their lead within five minutes of the restart.
It would not have taken that long had the overlapping Kieran Gibbs found the net after racing onto Podolski’s inviting ball.
In the 50th minute, they would go back in front. Again the German was involved as his header found Cazorla. The Spaniard clipped a cross-field ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right.
The midfielder buried a low cross-shot into the far corner. It was his first Premier League goal since the 7-1 win over Blackburn back on February 4.
It looked a crucial breakthrough but again Arsenal did not kick on. Newcastle were level just before the hour.
Excellent work from Obertan saw him beat Sagna and cut the ball back from the byline. It flicked off Koscielny and Marveaux had the simplest of touches to score at the far post.
It was a poor goal to concede but Arsenal's pursuit of the lead was impressive. Cazorla forced a fabulous save from Krul. The keeper then rushed out to snatch the ball from the feet of Podolski.
Then came the third goal.
Wilshere bobbed and weaved his way to the byline before clipping a high, hanging cross towards Walcott at the far post. The backtracking Fabricio Coloccini intervened but his header was plundered by Podolski from close range.
You hoped that was that.
But it wasn’t. This just was not that sort of game.
Five minutes later, Marveaux picked out Ba at the far post to volley his second goal and Newcastle’s third equaliser.
Arsenal had been in the driving seat all afternoon but Newcastle were like hitchhikers who would not leave the vehicle. They were just too tenacious to leave!
Four minutes later, Walcott's second goal at least opened the car door. Gibbs raced to the byline and trickled a pass back to the former Southampton star, who was on his own in a crowded area.
Walcott retained his composure to pirouette into space and fire into the roof of the net.
The striker nearly grabbed a hat-trick soon afterwards but curled a low effort just past the far post.
In the end, Walcott would set up the fifth. On 84 minutes, his low curling cross was converted in spectacular fashion by the diving Giroud.
Three minutes later, the substitute collected a loose ball in the area and ended the argument with an emphatic low drive.
A difficult evening had eventually ended in a cresendoing cruise.
Walcott chipped home the cutest of hat-trick goals in injury time to steal the matchball but Giroud might have matched him when he rattled the woodwork with the final kick of the game.
This was mighty hard work for a good hour but, in the end, Arsenal were well worth their win.
- Vermaelen (C)
- Cazorla 86
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 74 Goal!
- Podolski 82 Goal!
- Walcott Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Ramsey 82
- Coquelin 86
- Giroud 74 Goal! Goal!
- Santon Yellow Card
- Simpson 82
- Coloccini (C)
- Marveaux 88 Goal!
- Bigirimana 82
- Ba Goal! Goal!
- Tavernier 88
- Ferguson 82
- Ameobi 82