Van Persie v Krul row explodes as Arsenal sneak 2-1 victory
Walcott and Vermaelen vow to overtake Spurs after last-ditch win puts Gunners within a point
Arsenal 2 Newcastle 1. A goal from Thomas Vermaelen in the fifth minute of injury time gave the Gunners victory over Newcastle and closed the gap behind third place Tottenham to a solitary point.
"Tottenham have got to be watching over their shoulders now," declared Theo Walcott after Arsenal had come from behind to snatch three points for the fourth consecutive game. "We were great defensively and we know we can always score goals. With the squad of players we've got, we've got players coming back, we can go further than that [third place] and that's what we're looking to do."
Walcott was in sparkling form for the Gunners, at last showing Arsenal fans what he is capable of and why Arsene Wenger rates him so highly. Fifty seconds after Hatem Ben Arfa had put the visitors ahead on 14 minutes with a fierce shot that beat Wojciech Szczesny at his near post, Walcott responded with a pinpoint cross from the right that was buried by Robin van Persie for his 33rd goal of the season.
Van Persie should have had more but his first touch let him down on a couple of occasions and his focus perhaps suffered from a war of words with Newcastle keeper Tim Krul. The pair, teammates together for Holland, were at each other's throats the whole evening with Van Persie accusing his compatriot of time-wasting in taking goal kicks. The Arsenal captain might also have been frustrated at the string of saves Krul produced to keep the scores level.
The feud turned ugly in injury time after Vermaelen, showing incredible stamina, hared upfield and latched on to the end of another excellent cross from Walcott. As Krul fished the ball from his net, with only seconds left on the clock in which to find an equaliser, Van Persie is alleged to have said "Waste time now".
That sparked a furious reaction from the Newcastle keeper and referee Howard Webb had to step in to stop the pair coming to blows. He then awarded them both yellow cards, and Wenger admitted afterwards he feared it could have been worse.
"I'm happy Robin stayed yellow and not red," said the Arsenal manager. "I don't know what happened between Krul and Van Persie — I don't know if they have history from Holland. I will speak to Robin to find out. But it shows just how committed Robin is to the cause."
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew conceded that Krul might have been to blame for the row because he "took a bit too long for one or two of the kicks". But he was more concerned with a defeat that leaves his side in sixth spot, eight points behind the Gunners in fourth and five shy of Chelsea in fifth.
"Obviously we are disappointed," said Pardew. "We were running out of steam and I can't fault my players for their commitment and effort… [but] we must not let this disappointment get to us and [we] still have a shot at the Europa League."
As for the Gunners, they have now won their last five league matches and Vermaelen echoed Walcott's words with a warning to Tottenham that they intend to seize third spot and leave them to battle it out with Chelsea for fourth.
"I think we can overtake Tottenham," said the central defender. "We are on a good run and we are close to Tottenham now. We showed the mentality of fighters... In the second half we were pushing and pushing. We knew we had to be patient and in the end we will score a goal, and that's what happened."