The sight of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta being reduced to a frantic rage was all the confirmation Newcastle United will need that they are now a Premier League force to be taken very seriously.
Arteta was on the edge all night in his technical area as it became clear Arsenal were not going to be getting things their own way against the Magpies, with the flowing, easy on the eye, style that has been their trademark this season short in supply on Tuesday night.
The Gunners manager lost control in the closing minutes when he ranted at fourth official Jarred Gillett after only five minutes were added, then went face to face with Newcastle counterpart Eddie Howe when a penalty claim for handball against Jacob Murphy was ignored.
Arsenal and Arteta did have a point for their anger earlier when what looked like a clear penalty was mystifyingly ignored after Newcastle defender Dan Burn pulled down Gabriel in the area, but on a night when clear heads and calm instructions were needed, there was far too much hot-headed emotion from the home manager.
Newcastle made it their business to drag Arsenal out of their smooth approach work and into an attritional encounter and it was mission accomplished.
This was a scrappy eyesore of a match, although Howe’s side arguably missed the game’s best chance when Joelinton headed wide at the far post with the goal at his mercy in first-half stoppage time.
It made for pure frustration for Arteta and Arsenal, although when passions have cooled they can still reflect on an outstanding season so far with an eight-point lead, although Manchester City have a game in hand.
And it is perhaps a sign of growing expectations and standards at Arsenal that this result was met with such disappointment from fans who threw the full weight of their support behind Arteta’s team throughout.
Newcastle, in contrast, celebrated a point with their fans at the final whistle – Howe looking far more contented than his agitated opposite number as the visitors showed the streak of steel that is fast becoming their calling card.
Howe’s Newcastle have set a club record of six consecutive clean sheets and have conceded only two goals in their last eleven games in all competitions – both in matches they won.
They have shipped only 11 goals in 18 league games, the meanest defence in the division, and it was easy to see why here as Newcastle’s “they shall not pass” approach stirred the ire of Arsenal fans who were furious at what they regarded as an over-zealous approach.
It is this defensive bedrock that means Newcastle must be taken seriously in the top four conversation as they kept Arsenal out in a manner that has proved impossible for so many teams this season.
And it is a sign of the work done by Howe, aided of course by the millions provided by Newcastle’s Saudi Arabian owners, that 12 months ago they were second from bottom of the Premier League and staring a relegation fight in the face.
Now they are well-drilled, uncompromising and also carry the sort of threat and confidence that will stand them in good stead as the season reaches its pressure points.
Newcastle fans, upbeat anyway, were elated at the final whistle after their team delivered more evidence of their upward trajectory.
It may not have been pretty – indeed it was pretty ugly when it needed to be – but there was a unity of purpose about them that suggests they should not be taken lightly in the race for places in next season’s Champions League.
As for Arsenal, one night of disappointment should not be cause for too much disappointment. The Gunners have been outstanding this season and there were always going to be bumps along the road. This was one of them.
Arsenal still could have won it only for Newcastle keeper Nick Pope to thwart Eddie Nketiah with his legs late on, but 14 wins, two draws and only one loss, at Manchester United, are hugely impressive statistics.
Newcastle, however, were the more satisfied team on this night. They are now firmly in the top four mix and deservedly so.
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