Toon turnaround stuns Gunners
The Ivory Coast international pegged back the Gunners with a stunning 87th-minute volley after Joey Barton had scored twice from the penalty spot either side of Leon Best's fourth goal of the season. Alan Pardew's men were in complete disarray as the Gunners raced into a 4-0 lead at St James' Park within the opening 26 minutes. Goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and a Robin van Persie double looked to have wrapped up the points and allowed Arsenal to keep the pressure on Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester United. But after midfielder Abou Diaby had been sent off for furiously pushing Barton to the ground after a no-holds-barred 48th-minute challenge, Newcastle, roared on by a crowd of 51,561, pulled off the most unlikely of recoveries. Life for Newcastle without Andy Carroll had got off to a bad start at Fulham on Wednesday evening, and the mood inside St James' was decidedly ugly by the time 10 chaotic minutes had elapsed. Arsenal were breathtaking as their pace and movement left the men in black and white at times bewildered. However, they met little resistance as a Newcastle side which had won 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium in November showed few signs of producing a similarly dogged display on their own pitch, even with combative midfielder Tiote restored to the side after his three-match ban. The worry before kick-off had been that, without Carroll, now at Liverpool, and the injured Shola Ameobi, the ball would not stick in the final third of the field and that would invite pressure on to Newcastle's back four. In the event, neither Carroll nor Ameobi would have made a significant difference as their side saw too little of the ball to worry the Gunners. They did not see it at all in amid a red and white blizzard as Arsenal had the game under control before they had broken sweat. Walcott had scored twice in a 4-0 Carling Cup victory on Tyneside in October, and he needed only 42 seconds to increase his tally as he ran on to Andrey Arshavin's pass and slid the ball past Steve Harper with Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson trailing in his wake. There were less than three minutes on the clock when Djourou was inexplicably allowed to meet an Arshavin free-kick seven yards out, and his header flew in off the underside of the crossbar. When Van Persie fired home a third goal from Walcott's cross in the 10th minute, a packed house settled down for what looked certain to be an agonising remaining 80 minutes. The first chorus of disapproval aimed at owner Mike Ashley rang around St James' Park as the game restarted. Wenger's men were simply irresistible, with Cesc Fabregas and Diaby dominating in the middle of the pitch to allow Arshavin, Walcott and Jack Wilshere to repeatedly run at the shell-shocked Newcastle defence. Arsenal increased their lead with 26 minutes gone when Van Persie headed Bacary Sagna's cross home, and it came as a surprise that the scoreline remained at 4-0 when the half-time whistle handed the Magpies brief respite. Van Persie might have done better after running on to Williamson's weak header and shooting wide, and Harper managed to turn the Dutchman's shot against the post in injury-time. But the cracks started to appear after Diaby over-reacted to Barton's rugged challenge and pushed him to the ground to earn an inevitable red card. Newcastle took the Frenchman's untimely departure as their cue to step up a gear, and they got their reward after 68 minutes when, after Koscielny had brought down Best inside the box, Barton converted from the penalty spot to at least give the more optimistic members of the Toon Army some hope. Alarm bells started ringing for the Gunners when Best struck from close range with 15 minutes remaining, and when Barton drilled home a second penalty with seven minutes to play, a point was there for the taking. Tiote saved the best for last when he lashed an 87th-minute left-footed volley into the bottom left corner to complete a remarkable repair job. Kevin Nolan might even have won the game for Newcastle in injury-time, but that was a little too much to ask.