By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal tightened their grip on a top-four finish with this dominant 3-0 win over Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on Monday night.
Arsène Wenger’s side were in total control before half-time thanks to close-range strikes Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil.
They then overpowered Newcastle in the second half with some sublime football and extended their lead when Olivier Giroud nodded home Ozil’s cross.
A London Underground strike meant some Arsenal supporters would struggle to get home after the game.
But their team seem to have timetabled their push to perfection.
Arsenal started April with a 3-0 defeat at Everton that severely threatened Champions League qualification. They ended the month this evening needing one win, at most, to secure a seat at Europe’s top table next season.
This result also ensured Arsenal would finish above Tottenham for a 19th successive season.
You don’t get a trophy for that – as you don’t for a top-four finish – but they mean a great deal.
Meanwhile the silverware is on offer next month of course.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger’s team was unchanged. The comprehensive win over Hull almost demanded the status quo.
Everton’s defeat at Southampton on Saturday meant Arsenal not only had their top-four fate in their own hands, they could complete the job with a game to spare.
Alan Pardew’s side arrived in wretched form. They had lost nine of their last 12 games, including five straight defeats going into this game.
However Newcastle were still ninth in the table – an indication of both their early-season form and their potential.
The opening 15 minutes were tepid. Arsenal had a quiet control and yet they could muster little.
The first real opportunity arrived just after the quarter-hour when Santi Cazorla’s cross was punched clear by Tim Krul under pressure from Koscielny. Ozil’s volleyed the rebound inches wide.
Moussa Sissoko had missed most of Newcastle’s recent bad run but he was back this evening. He drove the visitors forward and, midway through the half, burst clear to curl an effort beyond the far post.
It was Sissoko’s foul on Giroud that led to the goal in the 26th minute. Santi Cazorla curled over the free-kick deep into the area where a gleeful Koscielny slid home his second goal of the season.
The Frenchman has now achieved that figure in each of his four seasons in north London.
That goal had broken the dam so Arsenal tried to create a flood.
Podolski drove forward, drew Krul and slipped his shot past the keeper. Unfortunately it drifted wide.
Then the German headed Cazorla’s corner toward goal with power. Krul thrust out a strong hand to turn the ball aside.
Cheick Tiote had a dip from distance as Newcastle tried to conjure an equaliser but the game was now wide open – and that suited Arsenal.
Three minutes from half-time Giroud raced through and, though twice foiled by Krul, the ball squirted to Ozil at the far post. The German had the simple job of slotting home his seventh of the season.
Arsenal went for more and Cazorla forced a fine save from Krul in injury time.
At the break, the home side were in control.
Nothing changed after the restart. A dominant Arsenal were strutting as much as playing.
The year of 2013 had statistically superb for the team. Although 2014 had been more difficult, Wenger’s men had dug in to find a seam of top-quality form.
Cazorla fired over and Koscielny thumped an effort across the face of goal as the home side overwhelmed their visitors at the start of the second period.
Yes, there was a danger of over attacking and, on the hour, Yoan Gouffran raced clear onto Loic Remy’s through ball only to fire straight at Wojciech Szczesny.
It did not dent Arsenal's offensive ambition. They continued to pick away at the Newcastle defence before whipping in a penetrative ball. The visitors were frequently fortunate to keep them out.
The third goal represented the beauty Arsenal were trying to capture. Aaron Ramsey’s reverse ball sent Ozil clear on the left. He smashed over a flat cross that Giroud diverted past Krul in an instant.
It was fluent, fast and lethal football.
Seconds later they nearly repeated the trick when the increasingly influential Ozil found Podolski in the centre. He swept a shot inches wide.
The game meandered to a conclusion after that. Arsenal were going to win, Newcastle had little to offer anymore and the spectators were rightly concerned about their journey home.
Nacho Monreal nearly beat Krul from the narrowest of angles in the final minute.
By then the crowd were singing songs about going to Wembley in May
Wenger’s men can not afford to think that way until the job is done.
But one more win will do it.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
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