Arsenal's win vs. Newcastle proves Prem and UCL up for grabs

Burley: Arsenal, Newcastle wasn't much of a contest (1:42)

Craig Burley breaks down everything that went right for Arsenal in its 4-1 win over Newcastle. (1:42)

LONDON -- Arsenal made darn sure VAR wasn't required against Newcastle this time.

Their 4-1 thrashing of the Magpies at Emirates Stadium on Saturday was an emphatic course correction from November's reverse fixture, a 1-0 loss that was Arsenal's first of the season. In that prior match, Anthony Gordon's controversial strike decided a frenetic contest, which prompted Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta to brand the officiating a "disgrace" amid heated words exchanged between the two clubs at all levels.

That defeat left a bitter taste in north London, so much so that the desire to right perceived wrongs informed the pre-match stadium build-up on Saturday. Sources have told ESPN that while the additional light show, tifos, flags and motivational videos were designed to rally supporters for an unusually late weekend kickoff, hey were also in part a reflection of the desire to gain revenge over a team with whom Arsenal have developed an unexpectedly intense rivalry of late.

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This fixture last season ended in a 0-0 draw and elicited widespread anger among Arsenal's players and staff about what they believed was excessive time wasting -- the ball was in play that night for around eight minutes less than the average Premier League game.

That was an example of the dark arts, which Porto also employed in Wednesday's Champions League last-16, first-leg clash with the Gunners at Estadio do Dragao, where Arsenal were beaten 1-0. In the aftermath, the Gunners faced accusations of naivety and questions over whether their goal-scoring form of late was the product of soft opposition rather than proof of their potency.

Both were answered in commanding fashion here. Arsenal dominated the match, so much so that Newcastle did not even register a shot in the first half.

"In sport, things happen for a reason so you have to learn from that," Arteta said of his side's response after the loss to Porto. "If you feel sorry for yourself for three days, what happens? It's about learning. We did that. We cannot cry. We have to understand why that happened and be better."

"We fully deserved to win," he added. "If we want to be the best club in the world, we have to have the best stadium and best atmosphere in the world that's for sure. Thank you so much for everybody who turned up today with that attitude. Thank you to the club as well for pushing for that and trying to generate that atmosphere because it makes a huge impact for the team."

The pre-match package helped whip the crowd into a frenzy, which Arsenal replicated on the pitch, producing a blur of movement and high pressing that overwhelmed Newcastle in the first half.

These days, if the Gunners don't get you from open play, they certainly will from set pieces. Newcastle contributed to their own downfall as former Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius, playing his first Premier League game in six years, made a brilliant stop to deny Gabriel Magalhaes from Bukayo Saka's 18th-minute corner only for Tino Livramento to hit Sven Botman with his attempted clearance, which fell across the goal line.

Kai Havertz added a well-worked second from Gabriel Martinelli's cutback before Saka scored in his fifth consecutive league game in the 65th minute and Jakub Kiwior struck on 69 minutes from Declan Rice's corner. That was Arsenal's 18th league goal from a set piece this season, a division high.

Former Arsenal academy graduate Joe Willock headed in a consolation goal six minutes from the end to deny the Gunners a clean sheet their performance deserved, but it did little to dilute the powerful statement Arteta's side had made in the title race.

"We're in a good moment," said Arteta. "Players are performing individually, it is not any secret. Things are flowing.

"We're scoring goals in different ways and especially we want more. When we score one, we want two, or three, or four. I love that mentality from the team."

Arsenal have now won all six league games in 2024 by a combined aggregate score of 25-3. They now have the best goal difference in the league, their total of plus-39 ranking one higher than Liverpool and six better than Manchester City -- a notable swing in their favour given how tight the race threatens to be this season.

Just three points separate the top three teams, and using past team-specific disappointments to inspire improvement -- add Newcastle to recent wins over West Ham and Nottingham Forest achieved in part through this methodology -- will ultimately be judged on correcting the biggest failing from last season: falling short in the latter stages of the run-in.

Commanding performances like this will fuel self-belief they can last the pace 12 months on, and also overturn that slender deficit to Porto in the return leg on March 12. The Gunners failed to have a shot on target in Portugal for the first time in more than two years, after which Rice admitted Arsenal needed more "savviness."

It was tempting on Saturday's evidence to wonder how different things might have been had Jorginho lined up in midweek at the venue where he won the 2021 Champions League with Chelsea, given the maturity he brought to the home side's midfield here. His 102 touches and 91 completed passes were both game highs, the apotheosis of which was the excellent first-half ball forward to find Martinelli for Havertz's goal.

"He's a top player," said Arteta. "Especially when opponents have certain behaviours and set-ups, the way I imagined the game, he was going to have a big impact. After, you have to do it at this level. When he's not playing consistently, credit to him because he was magnificent again today."

The suspicion remains that Man City possess more know-how and Liverpool have the news of Jurgen Klopp's impending departure to sustain them at the top. But the longer Arsenal can maintain this form, the harder they will be to stop.