Arsenal roar back into Champions League contention
Arsenal's French striker Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring their fourth goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium in London on February 16, 2020. Arsenal won the game 4-0.–AFP
Arsenal hauled themselves back into contention to qualify for next season’s Champions League with a 4-0 win over Newcastle thanks to second half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette.
Just a second league win for the Gunners under Mikel Arteta lifts Arsenal into 10th in the Premier League, but just six points adrift of Tottenham in fifth.
Manchester City’s two-season ban from European competition means fifth will be enough to secure a Champions League place unless the English champions succeed in appealing that sanction to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Arteta, who left City to take his first senior managerial role at the Emirates in December, could be the beneficiary of his former employers’ punishment.
And there was plenty of encouragement for the Spaniard in Arsenal’s second half performance after an all too familiar subdued first 45 minutes.
Both sides started the day in the bottom half of the table on 31 points and it showed before the break.
The visitors had the better chances as Joelinton screwed wide before Bernd Leno turned Sean Longstaff’s deflected shot to safety.
Arteta handed Eddie Nketiah his first Premier League start up front at the expense of the out-of-form Lacazette.
However, it took over half an hour for the 20-year-old to get a sight of goal when he fired too close to Martin Dubravka.
Nketiah should have scored when he hit the bar from Pepe’s cut-back in an explosive start to the second period from Arsenal.
But Aubameyang showed his young apprentice how to pounce in front of goal as he rose highest to power home Pepe’s floated cross on 54 minutes.
One of the revelations of Arteta’s early days in charge has been Bukayo Saka’s performances as a makeshift left-back.
No Arsenal player has created more goals than the 18-year-old this season and Saka nutmegged Valentino Lazaro before teeing up Pepe to fire home the hosts’ second from close range.
Newcastle have scored just 24 goals in 26 league games this season and their lack of a goal threat was obvious as they chased the game in the final half hour.
Ciaran Clark spurned a great chance to bring the Magpies back into the game by firing wide with just Leno to beat before the mercurial Allan Saint-Maximin curled a shot off the post.
Lacazette replaced Nketiah five minutes from time and made a huge impact to give his confidence a much-needed boost.
Firstly, the Frenchman crossed for Ozil, whose tame shot squirmed through Dubravka’s grasp.
Luck then shone on Lacazette to end a nine-game goal drought as his right-footed shot flicked off his left foot and flew into the top corner in the fifth minute of stoppage time.