ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Newcastle United 2
LONDON • As Rafael Benitez strode onto the St James’ Park pitch yesterday and earned a standing ovation, yet another Arsenal inquest was about to begin.
At the end of the Premier League game when, courtesy of a fourth straight win, Benitez’s Newcastle banished any lingering relegation fears and the debate about Jonjo Shelvey’s England candidature reopened, Arsene Wenger once again reached for his metaphorical tin helmet.
The 2-1 result represented Arsenal’s fifth straight away league defeat – their worst such run since December 1984 – and they have still to collect a single point on the domestic road this year.
In mitigation, their Europa League quarter-final triumph at CSKA Moscow on Thursday night was followed by a 5am landing at Luton airport the following morning.
That left Wenger’s players fatigued and he responded by giving 18-year-old midfielder Joe Willock his Premier League debut.
Still, Arsenal led through Alexandre Lacazette’s volley in the 14th minute. But Ayoze Perez clipped in Newcastle’s equaliser on the halfhour mark after a move that began with a 50-metre long delivery from Shelvey.
Newcastle took the lead in the 68th minute when Matt Ritchie fired home after a flick from Perez.
Newcastle manager Benitez said: “I think we are safe with 41 points.
“It’s a massive achievement for the players, the city and the fans. I want to congratulate everyone.”
Arsenal have now lost 11 league games this season. That equals their worst tally of league defeats in a season under Wenger, who suffered 11 losses in 2005-06.
Sixth-placed Arsenal are on 54 points – 13 points behind fourthplaced Tottenham, with five games left.
“We paid a bit for the fact we played on Thursday night. In the second half, we couldn’t raise the tempo and keep it up like we did in the first half,” said Wenger, after watching his side finish with 72 per cent of the ball. “We only have ourselves to blame for not putting the game to bed by half-time. That happened many times this season.
“It’s baffling how we lost this game today. From no chances basically we lose 2-1.”
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS