Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle United: Second Half Explosion

It was just how we drew it up, right?

On a day that saw goals flying in from all corners around the Premier League, Arsenal topped them all with a second half firestorm of strikes. Quietly, this is four wins on the bounce for the good guys, and we find ourselves three points behind our nearest and dearest with a game in hand.

It's a very happy holiday season indeed, Gooners.

The home side lined up much as they have in the last few matches, albeit without the services of Per Mertesacker. Laurent Koscielny deputized for the BFG, while Theo Walcott continued as the tiniest lone striker in history. Newcastle, as mentioned in John's preview, was missing roughly 947 first-team squad members. It was bad enough where James Perch, a right-back by trade, was pressed into center-half service. Also, they had no Hatem Ben Arfa or Yohan Cabaye. In short, this was a good time to catch the Magpies.

Despite that, Arsenal barely troubled the visitors' makeshift backline during the first quarter of an hour. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain screwed a shot wide seconds into the match, but then the Geordies closed ranks effectively. Meanwhile, Arsenal did their usual probing-around-the-edges bit, with no openings in the barcoded wall to be found.

The most entertaining part of that opening period had nothing to do with Arsenal v. Newcastle, and everything to do with Arsene Wenger v. His Puffy Jacket. In the corresponding fixture last season, you may remember it was the pocket failing to open that did in our manager. This time, the zipper was the Man of the Match, poor old Arsene failing to deal with it over the course of several minutes.

Thankfully for Le Boss, Walcott made us all forget about his outwear-based travails. A fantastic long, low pass from Lukas Podolski sprung Theo down the left-hand side. Walcott bore down on Tim Krul at a tough shooting angle. The low across-the-keeper finish is his trademark though, and he curled a peach of a shot around Krul and just inside the post.

We all know the deal with Theo, though. As talented as he is, he can also be unbelievably exasperating. First, he was played in one-on-one with Krul, again by an exceptional pass from Podolski. This time, he could only shovel a weak pass into the Dutch keeper's body. Next, a counter-attack saw Arsenal breaking at speed, but a criminally-underhit pass from Walcott killed the move before it began.

Meanwhile, Newcastle had barely made it into our half, a long-range scorcher from Chieck Tiote the only instance where Wojceich Szczesny was called into action. It was on one of their rare forays upfield though where they fluked a lucky equalizer. Bacary Sagna fouled Gabriel Obertan just outside of the penalty area, Demba Ba the man to take the kick. Ba's effort looked comfortable for Szczesny, but Jack Wilshere's deflection wrong-footed the keeper.

Those goals right before or after halftime are a killer, and Arsenal were reeling a bit. Had Sylvain Marveaux come up with a better shot with the Gunner backline in disarray, we could have found ourselves trailing at the interval.

Credit must be given to our boys though. They composed themselves during the break and came back out with verve and a sense of purpose. Here's the thing - offensively, Kieran Gibbs was one of our best players. He tormented Danny Simpson all day down the left-hand side, and that width allowed our central players more room to operate. On the other hand, defensively he was as abject as any Arsenal player has been all season. This time, Podolski was the creator once again, his through-ball leaving the Newcastle defense in tatters. Gibbs was in alone on Krul, but could only fire a weak shot directly into the keeper's chest. Truly, that was the finish of a left-back.

Three minutes later, though, Arsenal were ahead. Simpson's throw-in deflected off of Podolski, who passed to Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard played a fantastic square ball along the edge of the area to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose low shot went through the legs of Davide Santon and past the dive of Krul. That was a terrific finish from a guy who badly needed a goal after recent weeks.

Every time we took the lead, though, we seemed committed to handing it right back. Sagna was roasted down the right wing by Obertan, and the ensuing cross was deflected by Koscielny into the path of the onrushing Marveaux at the back post. Not for the first time on the day and not the last, either, Gibbs was nowhere to be found.  Shocking defending from the England man there.

The "no sir, after you" nature of the match continued as both sides again traded goals, and now they were even in time as well. Five minutes after the 2-2 goal, we took the lead. Five further minutes later, Newcastle were back on level terms. How pleasantly symmetrical.

Jack Wilshere was the driving force behind the next goal, as he won the ball with some ferocious pressing in the middle of the park (Arsenal did an exceptional job all day of harassing the Geordie midfield to win possession). He surged into the area and crossed in from the endline. Krul was beaten, but Fabricio Coloccini was there to head it onto the bar. Podolski got the goal his efforts deserved though, as he came barreling in to nod home the rebound from a centimeter out.

The home side once again were out in front, and then the Kieran Gibbs Experience happened again. Marveaux started the move, ambling from left wing to center with no red shirts anywhere. Sagna in particular was much too far inside, leaving it to Wilshere to have to come back to try and stop him. The Frenchman's cross to the back post found Ba in acres of space, Gibbs once again far out of position. One simple tap-in later, it was 3-3 and looking like another one of those days.

The pattern of the match largely continued though, except the go-ahead goal came in four minutes this time (seriously, we need to get Arsenal and Newcastle working with the MTA). Podolski and Gibbs re-enacted their partnership from the first half, the German again playing the left back into space. This time though, Gibbs was smart enough to play it back across the face of goal. Podolski mistimed his kick, but the ball came out to Walcott. Somehow, he was able to pirouette and smash a shot into the top corner despite the fact that half the Newcastle side was between him and the goal. That was an amazing finish, and if he keeps doing that I'm going to have to eat my words about how he's not worth what he's asking for.

That one took the fight out of the visitors, I think. They rarely threatened again, while Arsenal ran rampant. First though, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey came on in place of the Ox and Podolski. The former was the man who put Arsenal up 5-3 in the 85th minute, sparking a 10-minute stretch that may have been the finest we've seen this team play for a long time. A patient build-up saw Sagna receive the ball out right, and he tapped it over to Walcott. The England man's surging run left Santon for dead, and his cross was inch-perfect. Giroud split the static center-half pairing with a perfectly-timed run, and he simply nodded it past the stranded Krul. That was a goal that was beautiful in its simplicity.

Arsenal were not remotely done though, with further goals coming in the 87th minute and then in injury time. Walcott drew the Newcastle defense with yet another barnstorming run into the area, but he was muscled off the ball. It fortuitously fell to Giroud, who side-stepped Coloccini like he was made of granite and lashed a thunderbolt past Krul and into the near corner.

The last goal started from a free kick just in front of the corner flag. Walcott and Ramsey did almost a short-corner routine, leading to the former once again running at the defense with one thing on his mind. He was bundled over in the penalty area by a defender, which could very well have been whistled for a penalty kick. Referee Chris Foy played advantage though, and Walcott capitalized on the confusion in the Geordie backline. He got back up, collected the ball, and chipped it over the onrushing Krul to put the exclamation point on the scoreline.

Oh, and Giroud hit the bar right at the end, so it could have been eight. Hell, on another day this could have been 10-0.  Arsene said after the match that it wasn't an accurate reflection of the match, but I tend to disagree. The visiting defense was creaky and disjointed, the Arsenal attackers driven and clinical. Naturally, I would hope that the result doesn't convince the boss that reinforcements aren't needed in January now. But, on the day the Gunners were presented with an out-of-sorts opponent mentally and physically fatigued from a brutal Boxing Day match against Manchester United, and they did what they had to do. End of story.

See you in 2013, Gooners.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 5, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 6, Arteta 7, Wilshere 8, Podolski 9 (Ramsey 7), Cazorla 8 (Coquelin N/A), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Giroud 8), Walcott 9

Man of the Match: Podolski is a bit hard done by as this was easily his best match in an Arsenal shirt, but it can't be anyone other than Theo Walcott. I think it will be another 6-7 matches before we know for sure what his ceiling is as a lone center-forward, but the early signs have been promising. I'd like to see him replicate this against better opposition, but you can only play what is put in front of you and he was absolutely brilliant today.