Throwback Thursday: Newcastle v Arsenal (February 5, 2011)

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Saturday’s slate of Premier League matches kicks off with Newcastle at home to Arsenal. While this isn’t necessarily the most glamorous game in the fixture list, it does have its own secret history. And that history is built on ridiculous, improbable scorelines.

This week, we look back at one previous encounter between these two clubs at St. James’ Park that became one of the most incredible comebacks in Premier League history.

As this was a Saturday 3pm fixture, fans in the UK were unable to watch the game on television. The video is from Sky Sports’ live commentary of the 3pm fixtures for Soccer Saturday, hosted by Jeff Stelling. The reactions to the game by Stelling and studio analyst Phil Thompson are almost better than the game itself. Almost.

With Arsenal flying high near the top of the table, the visitors were confident of grabbing all three points. And, indeed, after half an hour they looked on course to achieving that— a first minute goal from Theo Walcott, a third minute goal from Johan Djourou, and a brace from Robin van Persie (10’ and 26’) seemed to have settled the matter very early in the proceedings. Surely there was no possible way for Newcastle to recover from a 4-0 deficit.

And yet.

The tide began to turn against Arsenal in the 50th minute when Abou Diaby got into it with Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan, getting a red card for his troubles. Still, even after going down to 10 men Arsenal should’ve been able to nurse a four goal cushion and see the game out.

But wait! There’s more.

Newcastle won a penalty in the 68th minute, which was successfully converted none other than Joey Barton. A consolation goal! But surely too late to mount a comeback. Right?

In the 75th minute, Leon Best scored to cut the lead in half. Uh oh.

Then in the 83rd minute, Newcastle win ANOTHER penalty. Joey Barton—who, it must be said, had a rough afternoon—converted once again. Arsenal’s seemingly insurmountable four goal lead had been cut down to one. Storm clouds had gathered while the victory party had been setting up. Arsenal now had to try to hold on for the last seven minutes of regulation (plus stoppages) and get out of there with all three points.

But then. But then.

In the 87th minute, Barton lofted a free kick into the box. It was cleared out by Arsenal defenders, but the ball landed at Cheick Tioté’s feet about 25, maybe 30 yards from goal. Tioté let it rip from distance, sending the ball over and through traffic and just out of Wojciech Szcz?sny’s reach as it sailed into the near corner.

St. James Park erupted. Phil Thompson let out a barbaric yawp. Jeff Stelling screamed that Arsenal had shot themselves “RIGHT through the foot!”. It was a pretty emotional moment, even if you were a neutral.

At full-time there was a scattering of boos in the ground— some Newcastle fans were unhappy with just a point! As it is, the game finished 4-4, with the Magpies pulling off one of the most improbable comebacks in Premier League history. For Arsenal, it marked the start of a late season skid which saw their title hopes evaporate in the last two months of the campaign; they would ultimately finish in 4th. Meanwhile, Newcastle ended their season in 12th, but this game ended up being far and away one of their biggest highlight of the 2010-11 season.

Arsenal will make the trip up to Tyneside again early on Saturday. Kickoff is at 7:45am EST on NBC Sports Network.

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