RACE FOR TOP FOUR
Arsenal beat Newcastle at Emirates Stadium to move above Manchester United and north London rivals Tottenham and go third in the Premier League.
Aaron Ramsey, who had an earlier effort disallowed following a foul, put the hosts ahead with a fine low strike from 15 yards out.
Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie produced a fine diving header on the goalline to deny Alexandre Lacazette, but the Frenchman doubled Arsenal’s lead late on when he calmly lofted the ball over goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
The visitors’ best chance fell to Salomon Rondon, but his low shot was pushed wide by Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Arsenal were 10 points behind Tottenham at the start of February but this victory took the Gunners two points clear of fourth-placed Spurs and United in fifth with seven league games remaining.
This victory was a 10th home league victory in a row for Arsenal, their best run since a similar sequence from December 1997 to May 1998, as Unai Emery’s team continued a strong second half of the season that could see them secure a return to Champions League action after a two-year absence.
Arsene Wenger’s 22-year spell in charge of the Gunners ended with regular protests among the fans as they watched their team drift away from Europe’s elite.
But Emery, in his first year in the English game, has galvanised the side with his brand of free-flowing attacking football and this result took them to 63 points – the same that the Gunners managed under Wenger in all of 2017-18.
Arsenal started with top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench, but they still had 71% possession and were simply too strong for their opponents.
The hosts thought they had taken a 12th-minute lead, but Ramsey’s volley was ruled out as Sokratis was adjudged to have fouled Florian Lejeune.
But the Welshman, who missed his country’s two matches during the international break, scored 17 minutes later with a low strike after DeAndre Yedlin’s clearance inadvertently fell into Ramsey’s path.
The home fans were nearly celebrating again just before half-time, but Lacazette’s powerful effort was spectacularly headed off the line by Ritchie with Dubravka beaten.
After Sokratis headed wide and substitute Aubameyang had a shot saved, Arsenal got the second goal they deserved through Lacazette’s calm finish after Aubameyang’s flicked-on header set up the chance.
The only negative from the evening was Ramsey, who will join Juventus on a free transfer in the summer, going off with an injury midway through the second half.
It was a tough night for Newcastle as they saw little of the ball and spent a lot of the time chasing it unsuccessfully against their dominant opponents.
The visitors only had one shot on target in the opening 45 minutes, when Rondon proved too strong for Sokratis but saw his low strike pushed wide by Leno.
Even though Arsenal central defender Shkodran Mustafi looked a weak link as he repeatedly lost the ball, Newcastle struggled to create chances.
Indeed, they did not have a shot on target after the break with Ki Sung-yueng shooting wastefully wide from the edge of the area in a rare opportunity to equalise, before Lacazette sealed the three points for the home side in the 83rd minute.