By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At the Emirates Stadium
Arsenal 2 (Van Persie 15, Vermaelen 90)
Newcastle United 1 (Ben Arfa 14)
Brave Newcastle were undone by an injury-time Thomas Vermaelen strike as they went down 2-1 away at Arsenal on Monday night.
Hatem Ben Arfa's fourth goal of the season had given the Magpies an early lead at the Emirates Stadium, but Robin Van Persie levelled immediately after.
It looked as though the game was heading for a draw, but Belgian centre-back Vermaelen struck deep into five minutes of stoppage time to earn the Gunners all three points, when it looked as though United would earn themselves a deserved share of the spoils.
Before the game, manager Alan Pardew insisted United would go on the attack, and that was ploy was backed up as Demba Ba forced a corner inside the opening minute.
However, the in-form hosts were soon on the front foot and captain Van Persie should have put them ahead just seconds later. Theo Walcott raced down the right and jinked past Fabricio Coloccini before sending a low ball across the face of the six-yard box.
Van Persie - the Premier League's leading scorer - looked certain to finish from close range, but the presence of full-back Danny Simpson was enough to put him off, as the Dutch striker completely missed his kick.
But after heavy Arsenal pressure in the opening exchanges, the visitors took a shock 13th-minute lead. Cheick Tiote and Ba combined well before Gabriel Obertan fed the ball out to Ben Arfa on the right.
The French international cut in off the flank and drilled a superb low, left-footed strike past Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny at his near post to silence the Emirates Stadium, apart from a pocket of Geordies in the far corner.
But Newcastle's lead was to last less than a minute as Van Persie notched up his 37th goal of the season in all competitions. Straight from the kick-off Arsenal roared back at their opponents, and Van Persie superbly controlled Walcott's cross to gain a yard of space away from Mike Williamson, before slamming the ball past the helpless Tim Krul.
Van Persie threatened with a second on 22 minutes direct from a free-kick. Fabricio Coloccini had been penalised for halting Walcott's tracks around 25 yards out. But although the front man's strike was on target, it was straight at Krul, who gathered comfortably.
It took until the 36th minute for the Magpies to carve out their next chance, but Yohan Cabaye's effort from distance was well off target, shortly before Jonas Gutierrez saw a shot deflected wide for a corner as Arsenal failed to clear their lines from a set-piece.
At the other end, Danny Simpson was on hand to clear from almost on the goalline as Arsenal nearly took advantage of a deep Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain corner, but the sides went in at the break all square.
As with United's last game against Sunderland, boss Pardew withdrew left-back Davide Santon at the interval, this time replacing him with James Perch, and the defender made an instant impression, robbing Van Persie inside the area with a classy interception.
Krul had to be alert to deny Rosicky's diving header in the 49th minute. The Czech midfielder had flung himself at a Walcott cross, with Krul palming the effort into the air before claiming it at the second attempt.
The Dutch keeper excelled himself once again straight after, thwarting Van Persie's volley from 12 yards after his fellow countryman had been picked out by Mikel Arteta, before sticking out a leg to divert yet another Van Persie effort - this time a cross-cum-shot - away from danger.
Arsenal's pressure was growing as Oxlade-Chamberlain drove in from the left to blaze wide, and Pardew responded just past the hour mark by making his second change of the evening. Shola Ameobi was introduced for Obertan as the visitors looked to make the ball stick up top.
But still the Gunners kept coming. Rosicky slipped in Walcott down the right, before racing into the area and receiving the return ball, only to slice his shot wide as he stretched to meet it.
Newcastle's defence held firm but then, with little over ten minutes remaining, they almost handed Arsenal the lead on a plate. Simpson and Ben Arfa dithered on the ball in a dangerous area, allowing Gibbs to nip in and feed Van Persie. The hosts' talisman was in a great position but opted for power rather than precision and screwed a right-footed shot past the upright.
The latter had a glorious chance to win it in the 83rd minute, but somehow fluffed his lines when a Van Persie free-kick found him completely unmarked at the far post.
Simpson - for the umpteenth time this season - was on hand to clear off the line, directing a Laurent Koscielny header away from danger, while Ramsey saw an effort from the edge of the box deflected behind.
Krul had been a hero throughout, but saved the best for the dying minutes - leaping full-stretch to tip over Thomas Vermaelen's powerful header, after the centre-back had risen highest to meet Alex Song's cross.
However, Arsenal had one more chance in them, and with seconds remaining Vermaelen struck. Song spread the ball out wide to Walcott, and even though Van Persie's header was blocked, as it dropped Vermaelen was on hand to sweep home from inside the six yard box and break Geordie hearts.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Alex Song, Mikel Arteta; Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky (Aaron Ramsey 76), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Gervinho 68); Robin Van Persie (c)
Subs not used: Lukasz Fabianski, Andre Santos, Johan Djourou, Yossi Benayoun, Marouane Chamakh
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Davide Santon (James Perch 46); Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote (Danny Guthrie 81), Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez; Gabriel Obertan (Shola Ameobi 61); Demba Ba
Subs not used: Rob Elliot, Dan Gosling, Haris Vuckic, Papiss Cisse
Referee: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire)