NEWCASTLE 2 ARSENAL 1 (Perez, Ritchie)
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie (Murphy 86), Diamé, Shelvey, Kenedy, Pérez (Joselu 79), Gayle (Slimani 63)
Subs: Clark, Hayden, Manquillo, Darlow
Win, win, win, win. That’s the club’s record over the past five weeks. And it’s that record which has taken the club out of trouble and into the top 10.
On this evidence, Newcastle have every chance of staying there.
United had last beaten Arsenal at home in December 2005. But fans had travelled to St James’s Park for yesterday’s game in hope AND expectation. And their team, yet again, delivered.
Matt Ritchie and Ayoze Perez got the goals as Newcastle came from behind to beat Arsene Wenger’s side, but this, like the victories before it, was a team effort.
With Benitez, it’s always about the team. United’s manager joined his players on the pitch after the final whistle to celebrate the result in front of the club’s fans.
Those same supporters were, this time two years ago, were facing up to the prospect of relegation.
Newcastle have been on the up since then, and Benitez’s side find themselves 10th with five games to play.
They’re on 41 points. The club is 13 points clear of the relegation zone with five games left to play.
Benitez, for the fourth successive game, had named the same starting XI. Islam Slimani, ineligible for the previous weekend’s game against his parent club Leicester City, was recalled to the bench. Mikel Merino and Christian Atsu didn’t even make the bench.
If Arsenal were tired from their long Europa League trip to Moscow in the week – Arsene Wenger and his players had arrived back in England in the early hours of Friday morning –they didn’t show it.
The game started at a high tempo and the visitors dominated the ball. The ball pinged up and down the pitch before a superb move led to Arsenal’s breakthrough in the 14th minute.
Shkodran Mustafi played the ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to the left of United’s box, and his low cross was volleyed home at the far post by Lacazette, who had been clattered moments earlier by Kenedy.
Aubameyang and Lacazette, of course, were once Newcastle targets. The lead, however, didn’t last.
Jonjo Shelvey played a ball upfield to Dwight Gayle, who checked back and found DeAndre Yedlin on the right. Perez timed his run to the near post perfectly and flicked the ball past Petr Cech after getting in front of Rob Holding.
A Mohamed Diame error led to a chance for Arsenal debutant Joe Willock late in the half, but the wrong-footed 18-year-old shot wide.
Neither manager made a change at the break, and Newcastle probed away in the second half. Minute by minute, tackle by tackle, Arsenal looked less comfortable as they tired and United challenged them physically.
They were seemingly in retreat when Benitez sent on Islam Slimani in the 63rd minute. Dwight Gayle – who hadn’t had a clear sight of goal – was taken off. Slimani soon had an impact. The striker headed an attempted Arsenal clearance down for Perez, who flicked the ball to Ritchie in space. The winger did the rest, scoring with an emphatic finish.
Kenedy, a threat whenever he had the ball, had a shot deflected on to the crossbar late in the game. At the other end of the pitch, Newcastle preserved their advantage with a series of blocks, tackles and headers.
Exhausted Arsenal, by the final whistle, had nothing left to give. This United team, however, has a lot more to give.