Arsenal 3 Newcastle 1
Patrick Vieira's stunner set the seal on another championship-winning display
as Arsenal's French connection showed they are not going to be made into title
dopes by Alex Ferguson's mind games.
Ferguson had tried to undermine Arsenal by saying the title was now theirs to
throw away after his Manchester United side were held by 10-man Liverpool
But Arsene Wenger's side showed they are not listening to any of the Old
Trafford psycho-babble as they swept a toothless Newcastle team aside in a style
that will fill Tyneside with Cup Final fear - and with Dennis Bergkamp and Ian
Wright to come back as well.
And it was the men that Wenger brought to North London from his native land
who made all the difference as Arsenal closed to within four points of United
with three games in hand.
Nicolas Anelka made up for a shocking first half miss to claim one either side
of the break and take his season's tally to seven.
Behind him Emmanuel Petit, pony-tail swishing in the wind, strode across the
turf he has made his own, a foot here, a toe there, always too clever for Kenny
Dalglish's miserable Magpies.
And alongside Petit, Highbury's own preying mantis, the long-limbed Vieira,
who finished off an almost effortless victory with a goal that will be long
remembered by the Arsenal faithful.
When he picked up the ball from Anelka there was plenty of space for him to
advance in, but plenty of black and white shirts as well.
But Vieira had his eyes for one thing only, unleashing a blistering shot that
rocketed in from 35 yards to give Shay Given not an earthly.
Warren Barton pulled one back late on, the first goal Arsenal have conceded in
the Premiership in 13 hours and 43 minutes.
But nothing could deny Wenger and his men a victory that was always there for
them once Dalglish, whose relegation fears must be growing, unveiled his hand.
With Alan Shearer, mercilessly booed throughout, operating on his own up
front, the onus was on Arsenal to force the pace.
The big question was whether, in the continuing absence of Bergkamp and
Wright, Anelka and Christopher Wreh would be up to the task.
Newcastle, with Des Hamilton in for Keith Gillespie and Andy Griffin at the
back, were content to defend in numbers, squeezing the Gunners for space, and
with Marc Overmars' early threat seemingly nullified by more ankle problems, it
did not look too bright.
It would have looked even worse if Newcastle had taken full toll of a
double-error by Arsenal in the 20th minute.
Hamilton's ball down the left had Shearer in chase, and Steve Bould, in for
Martin Keown, over-hit his back pass.
David Seaman stopped the ball, but then lost his footing, and with Shearer
closing in, had to grab the ball conceding an indirect free-kick eight yards
The entire Arsenal team were on the goal-line - Stuart Pearce a real nuisance
in front of them - as Barton back-heeled for Shearer, but the headlong rush
brought reward as Nigel Winterburn made the block.
That was as close as Newcastle were to get until late on, that Arsenal
rearguard - Remi Garde having replaced Gilles Grimandi - looking so solid.
Even so, the idea of Anelka being the hero would have seemed inconceivable
when he missed the mother of all openings in the 34th minute.
Forget all the talk of fluid football, this was route one at its ultimate, as
Seaman launched a clearance straight down the middle and over Philippe Albert.
Anelka was alive, flicking past Given, but realising too late that the ball
was not going in, but trickling wide.
He gave chase frantically, catching up a foot or two from the line, only to
turn against the post.
Disbelief, turning to desperation when a rare slip by Pearce allowed Petit's
ball to reach Tony Adams, who tried to bend it in with the outside of his right
foot but instead steered wide.
Yet four minutes later, all was forgiven, as Anelka struck the goal that ended
all the fears and frustration, lucky that Petit's attempt to reach Wreh's pass
unlocked the Newcastle defence, but then hammering home with aplomb.
Newcastle needed some inspiration, and Shearer was not far away soon after the
restart, before referee Gary Willard was at the centre of real controversy as
Barton tumbled under a Bould challenge.
Mr Willard decided the midfielder had dived, not needing Petit to signal the
card that was coming, but his actions incensed Albert, rushing to confront the
Frenchman and aiming a blow.
Winterburn sought retribution, although it came in the form of yellow cards
for both Barton and Albert, but the sort of pay-back that Highbury craved most
came in the 64th minute.
David Platt had just replaced Wreh, and from his touch Ray Parlour burst
between Pearce and David Batty, who had spent the game going backwards and this
time pulled out of a planned body check.
With space opening up, Parlour seared past the exposed Albert, and when he
crossed low into the six-yard box, Anelka slid in to convert.
That was that, the introduction of Temuri Ketsbaia not making any difference,
and when Vieira almost split the net with his thunderous blow 18 minutes from
time the points were absolutely guaranteed.
Barton's late strike after Albert played over the top was of statistical
importance but little more, even if it ended that Premiership run of clean
sheets since Dion Dublin's penalty at Highfield Road in mid-January.
Substitute Luis Boa Morte, on for Anelka, had a fourth harshly ruled out for
an alleged push in the final minute.
But Arsenal were not bothered and Ferguson can surely feel the hot breath of
Highbury resolution on his neck now. Roll on Ewood on Monday.
Arsenal: Seaman, Winterburn, Vieira, Bould, Adams,
Anelka (Boa Morte 85), Overmars (Hughes 76), Wreh (Platt 62),
Parlour, Petit, Garde.
Subs Not Used: Manninger, Upson.
Goals: Anelka 41, 64, Vieira 72.
Newcastle: Given, Barton, Batty, Shearer, Barnes (Andersson 66),
Speed, Pearce, Hamilton (Ketsbaia 60), Albert, Dabizas, Griffin.
Subs Not Used: Tomasson, Srnicek, Hughes.
Booked: Barton, Albert.
Goals: Barton 79.
Ref: G S Willard (Worthing).