Arsenal centerback Thomas Vermaelen scored in stoppage-time in a 2-1 win over Newcastle United on Monday, completing the team’s fourth straight come-from-behind victory in the Premier League to close within a point of third place.
Vermaelen’s close-range goal in the fifth and final minute of stoppage-time sent the 60,000-strong crowd at the Emirates into a frenzy, with the Gunners now within touching distance of fierce north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the last automatic Champions League spot.
“It was a relentless effort tonight again, from the first to the last minute,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “The tempo was absolutely top level tonight — they just kept on going until the last second of the game and managed to win.”
Arsenal were 10 points behind their local rivals only a few weeks ago, placing Wenger under increasing scrutiny and open criticism from fans, but the tide has turned with the Gunners coming from behind to win 2-1 against Sunderland, 5-2 versus Spurs and 2-1 over Liverpool. A 4-0 deficit to AC Milan in the Champions League was also met with a 3-0 victory in the second leg.
“Tottenham have got to be watching over their shoulders now,” Arsenal winger Theo Walcott said. “With the squad of players we’ve got — and we’ve got a lot of players coming back to fitness now — we believe that we can go much further.”
Newcastle scored in the 14th minute after Vermaelen gave the ball away, leaving Hatem Ben Arfa free to run down the right and cut inside Kieran Gibbs. The French winger’s curving left-footed strike beat goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny at the near post.
Arsenal had been dominating the match up until that point and the hosts showed resilience to reply immediately from the restart.
Tomas Rosicky started the move and passed to Walcott, who centered for Robin van Persie to take a touch on his left foot, turning Mike Williamson the wrong way, before blasting the ball past goalkeeper Tim Krul for his 26th league goal of the season.
“We just switched off,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said.
“Perhaps we had surprised ourselves by scoring and taking the lead. The second half, I thought we couldn’t have done anymore in trying to restrict a team that’s got their tails up and in good form,” he said.
Arsenal squandered chances earlier in the first half. Van Persie just missing converting a pinpoint cross from Walcott in the third minute and he came close again when his powerful free-kick went straight into Krul’s arms in the 22nd minute.
Newcastle struggled to match Arsenal’s tempo, but Yohan Cabaye’s shot flashed just past the post toward the end of the half.
The visitors appeared content going into halftime at 1-1, with Krul taking his time during goal kicks. Van Persie became enraged and the pair had a brief altercation — which flared again after Vermaelen’s winner secured Arsenal’s fifth straight league win.
Wenger speculated that the pair may have “history” from being in camp on international duty with the Netherlands and he was glad the incident did not result in van Persie being sent off.
“I’m happy he stayed yellow and it didn’t become red,” Wenger said. “He’s absolutely committed. He gave absolutely everything again tonight and got us a very quick equalizer.”
Arsenal began the second half brightly, with Rosicky’s header being stopped by Krul and van Persie shooting straight at the goalkeeper from close range.
Rosicky, who has recently signed a new contract at Arsenal, exchanged passes with Walcott while closing in on goal, but he mishit his shot with the net wide open in the 67th minute.
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