Everyone loves an inspiring comeback. Everyone except those on the receiving end of it.
What happened on February 5 2011 was no ordinary comeback. When Arsenal travelled to Tyneside less than a week after Newcastle had allowed Andy Carroll to join Liverpool for £35m, it is fair to say that even the most optimistic home supporter would not have been particularly hopeful.
After 26 minutes, there was no hope at all. Theo Walcott and Johan Djourou scored within the opening three minutes, and when Robin van Persie followed that up with a quick-fire double, it was beginning to look like a nightmare afternoon for the hosts. The only thoughts at that point were whether Newcastle could salvage any pride from the contest. The game was gone.
Or was it?
Having somehow got to half time without conceding again, Newcastle were handed a lifeline in the 50th minute. Abou Diaby lost his cool after a skirmish with Joey Barton and was sent off for grabbing his opponent by the throat. Finally, some respite for Newcastle, but not much more than that.
Or so it appeared at the time. That was not to be Barton’s last involvement in the game. With just over 20 minutes remaining he pulled one back from the penalty spot, and heading into the final 15 minutes it was 4-2 as Leon Best fired home. It couldn’t happen, could it?
Oh yes it could. Barton dispatched another penalty to reduce the arrears further, and with the clock ticking down it was left to Cheick Tiote to power home a stunning equaliser, sparking pandemonium inside St James’ Park.
Key Talking Point
There were genuine fears for Newcastle ahead of this game. Having been promoted back to the Premier League the previous season, the club had actually started well in their first year back in the top-flight, establishing themselves in mid-table.
But Chris Hughton was harshly sacked in December, and then Carroll was allowed to leave the following month. The side had lost their first game without him just three days prior to this game, limping to a 1-0 defeat at Fulham.
Who was going to score the goals to ensure that they stayed above the drop zone?
The answer to that question came emphatically here. Everyone would have to chip in.
Of course they were given a helping hand. Both penalties could be filed in the ‘soft’ category, and the Geordie faithful will have been thankful to see Diaby become one of the first players ever to lose his temper quicker than Barton.
However, aside from their moments of fortune, the second half showed that Alan Pardew had something to work with. Newcastle
Newcastle Player Ratings
Starting XI: Harper (5); Simpson (6), Williamson (5), Coloccini (6), Enrique (6); Barton (8), Nolan (7), Tiote (9*), Gutierrez (5); Best (6), Lovenkrands (6)
Substitutes: Ranger (7), Guthrie (5)
Barton can consider himself a little unlucky to not be handed this award after slotting home two penalties, but it was Tiote who just gets the nod here.
Not much was known about the Ivorian midfielder on these shores when he arrived in August 2010, but by this February afternoon the club knew that they had a quality operator on their hands.
Tiote was so often the driving force for Newcastle in his early seasons at the club, and this game was no exception. He seemed to be everywhere in the second half, and it was fitting that he scored the iconic equalising goal, volleying home with his weaker foot from outside the penalty area.
It was to be his only goal for the club during his six-and-a-half year stay, and he certainly picked the perfect time to produce it.
Tiote tragically passed away in 2017 following a cardiac arrest, but he will always be fondly remembered by the Magpies, with his solitary goal being one that will never be forgotten.
Key Talking Point
This was the point in the season Arsenal
Then this game happened.
Arsenal entered the match in second place, hot on the heels of Manchester United in the title race. The first half hour saw the team at their brilliant best, with Newcastle having no answer to the visitor’s early onslaught.
Yet the second half served as clear evidence that this Arsenal side remained a fragile outfit. When the momentum began to change, they rolled over rather too easily, dropping two points as their bid to end their trophy drought faltered.
Arsenal Player Ratings
Starting XI: Szczesny (6); Sagna (6), Djourou (6), Koscielny (5), Clichy (5); Diaby (4), Fabregas (6), Wilshere (6); Walcott (7), Arshavin (6), Van Persie (8*)
Substitutes: Squillaci (4), Rosicky (5), Eboue (5)
Robin van Persie
While Arsenal may have had obvious defensive issues in this game, they had no such problems at the other end. Much of this could be put down to the outstanding form of Van Persie.
The Dutch forward’s Arsenal career had stuttered at times early on, with injuries hampering his development, but he finally got to show what he could do in the 2010/11 season. He would go on to score 18 league goals in this campaign, with two of them coming here.
Linking up with Walcott to fine effect, Van Persie terrorised Newcastle’s defence, with his movement impressive throughout.
Not a day that Arsenal will look back on positively, yet Van Persie can comfort himself with the fact that he delivered another high-quality performance.
Things That Aged the Worst
Newcastle’s first substitution saw Nile Ranger enter the fray, and he actually caused Arsenal’s back four some headaches.
However, that was about as good as his Newcastle career was to get.
Despite early promise, Ranger was never quite able to make the grade on Tyneside, leading to him dropping down the divisions in the subsequent years. Legal issues would also hold him back, leading to him serving time in prison in 2017 for fraud. He has not played professionally since January 2018.
Meanwhile, on the other bench was Marouane Chamakh. The Moroccan striker had arrived from Bordeaux the previous summer and was expected to take the Premier League by storm.
That never quite happened.
After some bright moments in his opening months in London, Chamakh swiftly fell down the pecking order. Spells at West Ham, Crystal Palace and Cardiff failed to go much better before he eventually left English football in 2016.
Things That Aged the Best
When watching this incredible match, it was clear that Danny Simpson was going to go on and win a Premier League
Nevertheless, somehow it did happen. Simpson moved to Leicester in 2014 and was part of their remarkable title triumph two years later.
A far more obvious title winner was leading the line for Arsenal. Having netted a brace here, Van Persie went from strength to strength, scoring 30 goals the following season, before completing a controversial move to Manchester United in 2012.
He made an instant impact at Old Trafford, finding the target 26 times in his maiden campaign to steer the side to a 13th and final league title under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Players You Completely Forgot Existed
When looking for a replacement for Carroll, there weren’t many who expected Leon Best to step up to the plate. Yet he did have one of his best days in a Newcastle shirt here, winning the first penalty and scoring the second goal.
Unfortunately, he failed to do much else after that, and left the club in 2012. Numerous spells outside the top-flight have since followed, without ever being able to cement his place in a side. He is currently a free agent.
For Arsenal, there was second half substitute Sebastien Squillaci. Perhaps it is a little harsh to say that fans will have completely forgotten about a player who won 21 caps for France, but some of the Arsenal faithful may wish that they could erase his time in north London.
The experienced defender never seemed to settle in England, and was disappointing throughout. It was a relief for all parties when he moved to French side Bastia in 2013.
What Happened Next?
This was the start of a bright 18 months for Newcastle. Pardew guided the team to a mid-table finish in 2010/11, and then oversaw one of the club’s finest seasons in years in his first full campaign in charge.
The side produced plenty of attacking flair, with Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba all flourishing, as Newcastle went on to only narrowly miss out on a Champions League spot in 2012.
Things did not go quite as well for Arsenal.
They suffered further heartache later in the month, losing the League Cup final 2-1 against Birmingham. Their league campaign stuttered as well, as Arsene Wenger’s side finished the campaign in fourth place.
They would have to wait until 2014 to end their trophy drought.
How did a team with a strike partnership of Leon Best and Peter Lovenkrands score four goals in a half against Arsenal?
What on earth was Abou Diaby thinking?
How must Sol Campbell have felt watching Mike Williamson playing ahead of him?
It is hard to answer any of those with any logic. This game defied logic. Quite frankly, we are glad it did.