Goalscorers: Theo Walcott 1, Johan Djourou 3, Robin van Persie 10, 26, Joey Barton 68 PEN, 83 PEN, Leon Best 75, Cheick Tiote 87
Newcastle United: Steve Harper, Jose Enrique, Fabricio Coloccini, Mike Williamson, Danny Simpson, Joey Barton, Cheick Tiote, Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Leon Best (Danny Guthrie 89), Peter Lovenkrands (Nile Ranger 73)
Arsenal: Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Johan Djourou (Sebastien Squillaci 48), Laurent Koscielny, Gael Clichy, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby (SENT OFF), Cesc Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin (Tomas Rosicky 69), Theo Walcott (Emmanuel Eboue 79), Robin van Persie
Referee: Phil Dowd, Attendance: 51,561
Title-chasing Arsenal arrived on Tyneside for a fixture in February 2011 in confident mood. The Gunners’ were unbeaten at the start of the year and this looked like the perfect time to play their opposition. Newcastle were reeling from the sudden departure of top scorer and star player Andy Carroll on a crazy transfer deadline day.
Whilst they’d received £35million from Liverpool FC for Carroll’s services, fans were upset that the star asset could be sold and no replacement come in. Carroll had scored the winning goal when the teams’ met in November 2010 so at least Arsene Wenger didn’t have to worry about his physical prowess in the air. By full-time, he had to worry about the fragility of his side which was brutally exposed in the second half.
It had started so well in the first 45 minutes for the visitors’. They had simply blitzed their opponents. In fact, it looked like it could end up a cricket scoreline, such was the one-sided dominance. Theo Walcott stormed through the middle, outpaced Fabricio Coloccini and beat Steve Harper inside 44 seconds.
Three minutes later, it was 2-0. Andrey Arshavin’s free-kick was connected by the head of Johan Djourou. It was Djourou’s first-ever goal for Arsenal. Robin van Persie then added a quick-fire brace and Arsenal were 4-0 ahead inside 26 minutes. A combination of stylish attacking football from the Gunners’ and woeful Newcastle defending meant this was a scoreline that didn’t flatter either side.
Alan Pardew had to rouse his troops at half-time but they did get an early boost in the second half. Midfielder Abou Diaby lost control of his temperament. He pushed Joey Barton to the floor and also shoved Kevin Nolan right infront of the referee Phil Dowd. Dowd had no option but to give Diaby a straight red card.
Newcastle were lifted by this and they got on the scoreboard shortly afterwards. Laurent Koscielny’s clumsy tackle on Leon Best saw the home side given a penalty. Barton held his nerve to send goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way. The Pole’s refusal to give the ball back resulted in his own yellow card and suggested Arsenal nerves – despite still possessing a three-goal advantage.
Best had scored a hat-trick a month earlier against West Ham United and was giving Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci who had replaced Djourou early in the second half some major problems. He had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, before beating Gael Clichy at the back post and squeezing a shot past Szczesny from eight yards out after fine work by Jose Enrique. Suddenly, Newcastle supporters really started to believe.
Hope turned to expectation when Barton scored his second penalty seven minutes from time. Koscielny was adjudged to have impeded Mike Williamson in an aerial contest. It looked a soft spot-kick but the home players and supporters were not complaining.
Arsenal had simply gone to pieces. They couldn’t cope with the barrage of attacks that the Magpies’ were throwing at them. Yet, it had to take something special to complete the comeback. Barton’s free-kick was cleared away but only to the path of Tiote who produced one of the most iconic moments in Premier League history.
His volley was sublime and it nestled into the bottom corner, giving Szczesny little chance of saving his shot. The whole place went berserk. Pardew’s passion clear to see; players chased Tiote down the field and started jumping on him. Meanwhile, Arsenal simply looked dazed and confused. How had they managed to let this advantage slip away?
We will see many great comebacks in years to come in the Premier League but they will do well to match Newcastle United’s incredible recovery in this match of February 2011.