NEWCASTLE United can again challenge for a top-six place – if the club signs “two or three” more players.
That’s the verdict of manager Alan Pardew after the club finished the Premier League season in 16th place.
Laurent Koscielny’s second-half goal gave Arsenal victory at St James’s Park yesterday.
Newcastle were the better team before the break, but Pardew’s side couldn’t press home their advantage.
Pardew is set for talks this week with Newcastle’s hierarchy, and he will tell owner Mike Ashley that his side can narrow that gap next season with several key acquisitions.
“We showed we’ve got great players,” Pardew said. “We’ve had some performances out there which were top drawer.
“We know, in that (dressing) room, we’ve got 80 per cent of the team. There’s no problem with that.
“The younger players are going to be better for the experience this year, dealing with the criticism we’ve had and the hardship we’ve had to face.
“We still need to make sure we get two or three recruits in there which take us forward.
“If we can do that, they’ll grow as well, and we’ll be much, much better next year.”
A striker is a priority for Pardew, who would love to see Liverpool’s Andy Carroll back at St James’s Park.
Had Newcastle won, they would have finished the campaign in 12th place ahead of Fulham. The club would also have netted an extra £3m in prize money.
Ashley had pledged to give the club’s non-playing staff a share of a £1m bonus if Newcastle had beaten Arsenal.
Theo Walcott, who was largely contained by makeshift full-back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa before the break, whistled a sixth-minute shot over Steve Harper’s crossbar and Koscielny glanced a header harmlessly wide from Santi Cazorla’s 12th-minute corner.
But in the meantime, Magpies striker Papiss Cisse had gone significantly closer, whipping a first-time left-foot effort just over after a fine run and cross by Yanga-Mbiwa.
For all Arsenal were able to retain possession for long periods, they were unable to penetrate with Cheik Tiote harrying in the middle of the park and Yoan Gouffran closing down space further upfield.
Gouffran dragged a left-foot shot across the face of goal with 13 minutes gone and Jonas Gutierrez saw a shot from distance deflected safely into Woj-ciech Szczesny’s hands four minutes later.
There was little to choose between the sides, but the Gunners had a glorious opportunity to take the lead with 14 minutes of the half remaining.
Aaron Ramsey picked out full-back Kieran Gibbs in acres of space on the left and he cut inside Mathieu Debuchy before squaring to Cazorla, who steered his shot high over.
Yohan Cabaye tested Szczesny from long range with a dipping effort seven minutes later, but Hatem Ben Arfa, who produced several spellbinding solo runs during the first half, could not hit the target after cutting inside five minutes before the break.
Harper, who was warmly applauded by the home fans in his last appearance for the club as the clock ticked into the 37th minute – his shirt number – was called upon for the first time within 60 seconds of the restart, and he will have been mightily relieved to find himself equal to the task after handing the Gunners their chance himself.
The goalkeeper’s scuffed challenge fell to Ramsey, who slid the ball into the path of Walcott, but the England international could not beat Harper as he dived low to his right.
However, Arsenal had emerged in far more determined mood and they went ahead with 52 minutes played when Per Mertesacker headed down Walcott’s free-kick for central defensive partner Koscielny to volley past the helpless Harper from close range.
Vurnon Anita, on for the injured Cabaye, sparked a promising 58th-minute attack for the Magpies which saw Jonas Gutierrez set up Cisse, but his shot was blocked at source by Koscielny.
It took Mertesacker’s intervention to deny Gouffran a 64th-minute equaliser after Anita had picked out Mathieu Debuchy on the right, and the Frenchman was soon replaced by compatriot Sylvain Marveaux as Pardew looked for a way back into the game.
Walcott had a glorious opportunity to make sure at the death when he carved his way through the home defence, but with just Harper to beat, he stabbed the ball against the foot of the far post.
Newcastle: Harper, Debuchy, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Yanga-Mbiwa (Campbell 80), Ben Arfa, Cabaye (Anita 57), Tiote, Gutierrez, Gouffran (Marveaux 64), Cisse. Subs not used: Alnwick, Simpson, Perch, Obertan. Booked: Gutierrez.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Arteta (Oxlade-Chamberlain 28), Walcott, Rosicky, Cazorla (Wilshere 88), Podolski (Giroud 77). Subs not used: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Gervinho, Monreal. Booked: Rosicky, Gibbs. Goals: Koscielny 52.
Att: 52,354 Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).