Gary Neville believes Arsenal “grew up” in their win over Newcastle and “gave Man City a dig in the ribs” as they breathed life into the title race.
Arsenal showed their mettle and came through a devilishly difficult fixture at St James’ Park to keep the title race alive with a 2-0 win.
Their season came crashing down on Tyneside last year when a 2-0 defeat meant a top-four finish was out of their hands going into the final weekend – but this is a more resilient and battle-hardened group now.
Mikel Arteta admitted that defeat was part of the motivation ahead of this game. “My players had revenge in their minds after last year,” he said.
It leaves the Gunners a point behind Pep Guardiola’s side, who still have a game in hand.
It might prove a chase in vein but Arsenal are staying hot on Manchester City’s heels as this fascinating title race rolls on and Neville was impressed with what he saw from the Gunners.
He said: “I thought they might get eaten alive [on Sunday]. The atmosphere was ferocious. Arsenal grew up here a lot. Mikel Arteta deserves a lot of credit for picking Jorginho. Many would have said get Thomas Partey back in there. The class Martin Odegaard showed in the first 30 minutes was outstanding. Jorginho composed his team-mates and guided them. (Gabriel) Martinelli and (Bukayo) Saka are still not at their best but the composure from Odegaard and Jorginho was there for all to see.
“The reason why Manchester United players and Pep Guardiola have said Paul Scholes is their favourite player was because in moments in the hardest atmosphere in a difficult away game those players are unique. They have the composure, the balance to get the team playing. That’s what Jorginho reminded me of – he was fantastic.
“Arsenal have gone up a lot in my estimation [on Sunday] as I didn’t expect that. I expected them to fall. Those Manchester City players will go to bed, not panicking, but it’s a little dig in the ribs. They will have wanted a cushion going into the Real Madrid game.”
He added on The Gary Neville Podcast: “They’ve really gone up in my estimations, Arsenal, from where they were in the last few weeks because people have said they lost their form, they didn’t lose their form.
“They played brilliantly, the best I’ve seen a team play at Anfield in the first half-hour, at the London Stadium they were sensational for 35 minutes, they were really good against Chelsea. They’ve not lost their form, if you do that you go down suddenly. What they’ve done is lost their nerve in games where they’ve conceded a goal and not handled adversity well.
“They’ve looked a little bit panicky and tense, all those things you associate with pressure.
“It was so important that Arsenal had to keep Manchester City honest, and they’ve done that. It makes it really compelling.”
Odegaard: Ugly win shows how far we have come
Despite a few wobbles in recent weeks, Arsenal stuck to their principles with Martin Odegaard firing them in front from 30 yards on 14 minutes before a Fabian Schar own goal wrapped it up in the second half. Odegaard, again, was a shining light for Arteta’s side, showing great composure with the ball under intense Newcastle pressing.
He told Sky Sports: “We showed something special here [on Sunday]. To come here and win is not easy. We had to be very smart and to be ugly at times. It is a big step for a young team like ours to come here and do the things we did. It shows we have come a long way.
“Last year here was one of the toughest days of my career, to be honest. After dropping points against Man City, to win against Chelsea and then come here and win shows the mentality. We have to keep going and digging in and fight until the end. It is football, anything can happen and we need to be ready.”