INJURY and suspension-hit Newcastle United dropped down to 12th in the Premier League this afternoon after a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal.
But the scoreline at St James’s Park didn’t tell the whole story.
After a dreadful first-half, in which Olivier Giroud netted twice, John Carver’s side took the game to Arsenal.
And stand-in captain Moussa Sissoko scored early in the second half in front of watching owner Mike Ashley.
Newcastle, without a clutch of key players, created chance after chance, but they couldn’t put the ball in the net.
And the result saw United drop below Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace – who won 2-1 at Stoke City – in the league table ahead of the Wear-Tyne derby on April 5.
Some fans had seen enough by the break, and didn’t return for the second half. But it turned out to be a game of two halves.
Head coach Carver, without suspended captain Fabricio Coloccini, made three changes, with Ayoze Perez, Remy Cabella and Vurnon Anita coming into his side.
And his reshuffled side coped with Arsenal’s early pressure.
Perez, up front, was a danger on the break, but the team’s afternoon started to unravel midway through the half, when makeshift left-back Jack Colback conceded a needless free-kick.
Santi Cazorla swung in the ball from the right, and Danny Welbeck’s knock-down was met by the knee of Giroud, whose attempt beat Tim Krul.
Three minutes late Arsenal got a second goal, again from a set-piece.
Giroud beat Mike Williamson to head a Cazorla corner past Krul.
United rallied, briefly, late in the half, but the first 45 minutes underlined the need for what Carver described as a “clearout” at St James’s Park on the eve of the game.
Some fans had seen enough by the break, and didn’t return for the second half.
But it turned out to be a game of two halves.
Newcastle looked a different side after the interval, and Sissoko pulled a goal back in the 48th minute with a simple finish after a nice move on the right involving Cabella and Ryan Taylor.
Seconds after the restart, Perez flashed a shot just wide of Arsenal’s right-hand post.
The goal energised the team – and the club’s supporters.
There was a strong claim for a handball in the box, and Sissoko forced a point-blank save from David Ospina in the 64th minute.
Jonas Gutierrez replaced Anita in the 71st minute after two changes from Arsenal – Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini were brought on by Arsene Wenger – and a shot from Perez was deflected on to the roof of the net.
United kept on pressing, and referee Mike Jones waved away another penalty appeal after Cabella went down in the box.
Carver threw on Adam Armstrong for the last couple of minutes.
But Arsenal held on to claim all three points.
Carver’s players, however, were applauded off the field for their second-half efforts.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul; R Taylor, Janmaat, Williamson, Colback; Anita (Gutierrez, 71), Sissoko; Cabella, Gouffran, Ameobi (Armstrong, 89); Perez. Subs not used: Elliot, Satka, Kemen, Obertan, Riviere.
ARSENAL: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Alexis (Rosicky, 71), Cazorla (Flamini, 71), Welbeck (Bellerin, 89), Giroud. Subs not used: Szczesny, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Walcott.
Goals: Giroud 25, 28, Sissoko 48
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)