LONDON – Aaron Ramsey lifted Arsenal into third place in the Premier League as the Wales midfielder’s clinical finish inspired a 2-0 win against Newcastle on Monday.
Ramsey’s first-half strike was followed by Alexandre Lacazette’s killer second in the closing stages at the Emirates Stadium, maintaining Arsenal’s impressive progress under Unai Emery.
Emery’s side climbed two points above fourth-placed Tottenham and fifth-placed Manchester United to bolster their chance of qualifying for the Champions League via a top-four finish with seven games to go.
It is the first time Arsenal have been as high as third place since April 2017, highlighting their improvement since former Paris Saint-Germain boss Emery replaced Arsene Wenger at the end of last season.
Ramsey’s fifth goal of the season was only his second since he signed a lucrative pre-contract agreement to join Juventus at the end of the current campaign.
But, while Ramsey won’t be part of Emery’s long-term plans, the future still looks bright for Arsenal, who recorded a 10th consecutive home league victory for the first time since December 1997 to May 1998.
Arsenal finished with 63 points in Wenger’s final season, but Emery has matched that tally with seven games to spare.
No wonder Arsenal fans celebrated an important win by taunting their spluttering north London rivals with chants of “Are you watching Tottenham”.
Newcastle remain seven points above the relegation zone after a 12th defeat in their last 13 meetings with Arsenal.
The Gunners hadn’t played since beating Rennes in the Europa League 18 days ago, but, after a rusty opening, they began to take the game to Newcastle.
Ramsey thought he’d given Arsenal the lead when he swept home at the far post from Sead Kolasinac’s flick.
But his celebrations were curtailed as the goal was controversially ruled out by referee Anthony Taylor for Sokratis’s shirt tug on Florian Lejeune.
If Arsenal felt aggrieved by that debatable decision, they poured their frustration into breaking down Newcastle’s five-man defence.
Emery had surprisingly left Gabon forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench as Mesut Ozil started behind Lacazette.
Aubameyang has 22 goals in all competitions this season, but his absence wasn’t a problem for Arsenal as they unhinged Newcastle’s massed rearguard in the 30th minute.
Matteo Guendouzi passed to Ramsey and his clever flick picked out Lacazette in the Newcastle area.
Lacazette was surrounded by three defenders and as he twisted to find space, the ball cannoned off DeAndre Yedlin into Ramsey’s path and he guided a low shot past Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka via the far post.
Salomon Rondon had a chance to equalise immediately when the Newcastle striker muscled Sokratis off the ball and moved into the area.
But with the angle tight, Rondon opted for a near-post effort that never threatened to beat Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno.
Arsenal remained by far the dominant force, and Lacazette almost doubled their lead on the stroke of halftime when his shot was brilliantly headed off the line by Matt Ritchie.
Looking for the decisive second goal, Emery sent on Aubameyang with half an hour left.
Sokratis couldn’t provide the finishing touch when he headed over from a corner, before Ramsey departed to a rousing ovation after taking a knock that forced his substitution.
Aubameyang went close when he found space for a low shot that Dubravka turned away.
And it was Aubameyang who was the catalyst for Arsenal’s second in the 83rd minute.
Guendouzi clipped a pass to Lacazette and he redirected it to Aubameyang, who cleverly headed the ball over the statuesque Jamaal Lascelles.
With Lascelles too slow to react, Lacazette nipped ahead of the Newcastle captain and chipped over Dubravka for his 15th goal in all competitions this term.