Arsenal rediscover their mettle to keep title race alive

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, England — Arsenal cut Manchester City‘s lead at the top of the Premier League to one point with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Newcastle United in a pulsating match at St James’ Park on Sunday.

Martin Odegaard gave the visitors the lead against the run of play after 14 minutes with a fine low drive before Fabian Schar turned Gabriel Martinelli‘s 75th-minute cross into his own net. Mikel Arteta’s side have played a game more than City but secured a win that will turn up the heat on the title rivals given they must juggle the domestic run-in with a two-legged Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid over the next 10 days.

Arsenal weathered a storm in the opening 10 minutes as Jacob Murphy hit the post in the second minute before referee Chris Kavanagh awarded the home side a spot kick five minutes later. Jakub Kiwior was adjudged to have blocked Bruno Guimaraes‘ shot with his hand, but Kavanagh overturned his decision on VAR review and the Gunners took full advantage by scoring with their first meaningful attack.

Odegaard took aim from the edge of the box to drill home his 15th league goal of the season. Arsenal wasted several excellent chances to extend their advantage as Martinelli and Bukayo Saka were sent clear before Joe Willock shot straight at Ramsdale at the other end in a frenetic first half.

Nick Pope saved from Odegaard in first-half stoppage time, but it was Newcastle who started the second half better, Alexander Isak hitting the post before Ramsdale brilliantly saved Schar’s header from point-blank range. Both sides pushed for the game’s second goal, but it was Martinelli who would make the decisive impact, bursting down the left before delivering a low cross that Schar could only turn into his own net.


Rapid reaction

1. Arsenal rediscover mettle to keep title race alive

This was most likely win or bust for Arsenal. Arriving at St James’ Park four points adrift of leaders Manchester City, a defeat here would have left the Gunners needing a miracle from their final weeks of the campaign to stand a chance at the title. This was also the scene of a dreadful 2-0 defeat last season, when Champions League qualification slipped from their grasp, and the raucous sellout crowd were determined to make this another searching examination of Arsenal’s resolve.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

The first 10 minutes were precisely that. Murphy hit the post, Arsenal survived a huge penalty appeal — initially awarded but then rescinded on VAR review — as Arteta’s side endured maximum pressure. What followed was an impressive display of resilience that keeps the title race well and truly alive.

They undoubtedly rode their luck at times — the start of the second half was equally as fraught as the first — but Arsenal created the better chances and kept their heads in what became a hugely physical encounter in front of a hostile crowd. They become only the second visiting team to win at Newcastle this season — the other was Liverpool, who had the benefit of playing against 10 men for 68 minutes — but more importantly, they have ended the late-season wobble with back-to-back wins. Whether it comes in time to win the title remains to be seen, but this result gives Arsenal a chance.

2. Arsenal dance to Odegaard’s tune

Much has been made of Gabriel Jesus‘ and Oleksandr Zinchenko‘s title-winning nous potentially being a major asset to Arsenal in the run-in, but the captain led from the front on Sunday. Odegaard left the field 10 minutes from time with a modest pass completion rate of 75.9% but he brought real maturity to Arsenal’s play, keeping things simple with little pockets of possession designed to break up Newcastle’s flow.

He wasn’t at his most efficient in the final third, missing a glorious chance with the final act of the first half that had him shouting to the sky in frustration, but he still registered his ninth non-penalty away goal in the league this season — the most by an Arsenal player since Alexis Sánchez in 2016-17 (15). Joining Martinelli on 15 goals also means Arsenal have two players score 15 or more goals in a single league campaign for the very first time.

After scoring twice in the midweek win over Chelsea, Odegaard produced another influential display when his team needed it the most. There is still room for improvement — he was one of several players to underperform against Manchester City — but he is leading the fight to ensure City have to keep winning right to the end.

3. Howe’s bold Isak and Wilson call fails to pay off

This was the first time Callum Wilson and Isak have started a game together for Newcastle. Isak’s lively cameos off the bench combined with Wilson’s excellent form since coming back from injury — eight goals in seven games in April — created a clamour among supporters in these parts for the duo to be unleashed. Manager Eddie Howe justified the decision through an injury to midfielder Sean Longstaff “creating a gap” in the starting lineup, but Newcastle’s attack looked disjointed, particularly in the first half.

Arsenal did an excellent job of stifling midfield playmaker Guimaraes, meaning Newcastle were forced to go longer with their passing in trying to find Wilson up front. The Magpies have the best defensive record in the league this season, but they struggled with the balance of their side on Sunday; it is an issue Howe will have to address more effectively, especially if they secure Champions League football next season, as appears likely.


Best and worst performers

BEST: Martin Odegaard, Arsenal. Gave Arsenal composure and quality in midfield on top of a superb opening goal.

BEST: Aaron Ramsdale, Arsenal. Made five saves and ended with an expected goals against total of 1.27 yet kept a clean sheet.

BEST: Granit Xhaka, Arsenal. Broke up play well, exhibiting game-management that delighted Arteta and infuriated the home side.

WORST: Fabian Schar, Newcastle. Fine margins but he missed a glorious chance at 1-0 down, planting a free header six yards out at Ramsdale and then turned Martinelli’s cross into his own net.

WORST: Oleksandr Zinchenko, Arsenal. Struggled to cope defensively — including being put on the deck as Murphy twisted and turned early in the second half — and was substituted for Kieran Tierney on 61 minutes.

WORST: Dan Burn, Newcastle. Looked awkward up against Saka and booked for a bad tackle on the England international in the final 20 minutes.


Highlights and notable moments

When a midfielder can place a strike with such pinpoint precision from nearly 30 yards out, it’s practically impossible to defend. Odegaard has been brilliant for Arsenal, yet again.


After the match: What the players/managers said

Odegaard: “We showed something special here today. To come here and win is not easy. We had to be very smart and to be ugly at times. It is a big step for a young team like ours to come here and do the things we did. It shows we have come a long way.”

Howe: “Fine margins for us today and we just came out on the wrong side of them. We missed some big chances in the game, and it just wasn’t quite there for us. I am sure I will look back at some moments and rue some moments we didn’t get quite right.”


Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– Only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have scored more away goals in the Premier League this season (13 each) than Odegaard’s nine.

– Odegaard joins Martinelli at the 15-goal mark this season in league play, the first time that Arsenal have boasted two 15-goal scorers in a single Premier League season.

– Arsenal have not lost in games when Odegaard has scored (10W-2D-0L).


Up next

Newcastle United: The Magpies travel to Elland Road on Saturday for a Premier League contest against relegation-threatened Leeds United.

Arsenal: Seven days from now the Gunners will be back in North London for a Sunday showdown with Brighton & Hove Albion as Arteta’s team tries desperately to keep the pressure on league leaders Man City.