What a fitting end to a simply incredible few months on Tyneside.
The final home game of the 2021/22 season and a five-star performance from all involved, as a Ben White own goal – set up brilliant by Joelinton – and Bruno Guimaraes strike saw us beat Arsenal 2-0 in front of a packed out St James’ Park.
We looked like the side battling for a place in the top four – not Arsenal – and we dominated from start to finish, creating enough chances to win by four or five, winning the midfield battle by a landslide, defending superbly and enjoying almost 70% possession in the first half.
It was our most complete performance under Eddie Howe, a win that keeps our top 10 hopes alive – we are now up to 12th on 46 points – and the perfect end to a rollercoaster season that’s ended in style, whetting our appetite for what’s ahead.
The atmosphere inside the ground was breathtaking as the players came out, with Wor Flags delivering their biggest and best display yet as all four sides of the stadium were filled with flags, tributes and black and white banners galore.
We responded to that with a fast start, seeing Callum Wilson looking razor sharp in the opening stages. OK, he was caught offside a few too many times, but his constant runs in behind were stretching an Arsenal defence who were struggling to cope with his pace and power.
Joelinton – the newly crowned player of the season – was bang at it, Bruno Guimaraes was showing Arteta what he was missing out on alongside him and Sean Longstaff was also playing at a much higher tempo after a lacklustre outing at Man City last weekend.
We’d dominated the first 20 minutes, having 65% of the ball and long periods of pressure, but didn’t have a goal to show for it; even if all the signs suggested we had Arsenal on the ropes.
Saint-Maximin had the beating of Tomiyasu and was causing havoc when we got him on the ball. His final ball into the box was mixed, but he was clearly in the mood – linking up well with teammates, forcing the opposition to commit fouls and going close to scoring the opening goal after cutting in from the right and unleashing a stinging low show that Ramsdale did well to tip wide.
The one criticism was we hadn’t tested their goalkeeper enough or made the most of our early dominance, but we were on top heading into a second half at the Gallowgate.
Arsenal were going to lose this and ruin their top four hopes if they didn’t improve. They came out with a little more urgency in the second half, but the biggest blow they landed was on Fabian Schar – who has out cold for a spell after a heavy collision with Eddie Nketiah.
The Swiss centre-back couldn’t continue and was taken off as a precaution, seeing Jamaal Lascelles come on and take the captains armband.
Then, after some brilliant play down the left between ASM and Joelinton, our player of the season burst clear down the left and delivered the perfect low ball across the box. Wilson got in between the two centre-backs and Ben White’s late lunge saw him bundle into his own net!
1-0 Newcastle and a goal our display and overall control of the game thoroughly deserved. A shame to see Wilson not credited with the goal, but it was his movement in the box that made all the difference.
Saying that, our fit-again number nine came so close to make it 2-0 on two separate occasions after that, lashing one volley just over before White blocked a 72nd minute effort that almost looped into the far corner.
Howe then made his second and third change of the night with 15 minutes remaining, as Ryan Fraser and Jacob Murphy came on for a much improved Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron.
I wonder if that’ll be the last time we see the Paraguayan at St James’ Park? If it is, he ended his time on Tyneside with a typically energetic display and deserved the ovation he received. His quality on the final third may be lacking at times, but there’s few players in the Premier League who work as hard.
Arsenal had to throw bodies forward to get their Champions League hopes back on track – Tottenham would go into the final day in 4th if the Gunners didn’t score twice without reply – but it was us who almost made it 2-0.
Murphy burst clear and we had a two on one. He played a one-two with Fraser and, after a period of indecision, didn’t get a hold of his shot. A missed opportunity to kill the game, yet we almost saw one of the goals of the season seconds later when Wilson took down a long ball just a few yards into the Arsenal half and almost lobbed a scrambling Ramsdale with an incredible first time effort!
In the end, those misses didn’t matter as Bruno Guimaraes scored at the Gallowgate to double our lead with just five minutes remaining.
Longstaff – who was having one of his best games since the Benitez era – did brilliantly to pick out Wilson, whose effort was smothered by an onrushing Ramsdale, but the ball fell to our blonde-haired Brazilian and he made no mistake!
Because Schar’s withdrawal was a concussion substitution, we were able to make our fourth change of the night in stoppage time, seeing Dwight Gayle replace the brilliant Callum Wilson. He was sensational tonight and deserved a goal for setting the tone up top from the off.
Also nice to see Howe give Gayle one last ovation, with it widely accepted that he will leave the club this summer after falling way down the pecking order of late.
The full-time whistle went and the celebrations continued both on an off the field at St James’ Park, seeing fans lap it up from the stands and the players share hugs all round as new director Majed Al Sorour and co-owner Amanda Staveley also came onto the pitch. Heck, even Dec came onto the field to wave a big black and white flag about!
On our final home game of the season, the last word must be on Wor Flags – a group of unpaid volunteers who knocked it out of the park at St James’ Park yet again tonight!
A trip to Burnley awaits on the last day of the 2021/22 season next Sunday, but we can’t wait to see what lies ahead – both on and off the field – over the coming months. HWTL.