Newcastle 4 – 4 Arsenal
By Paul Fletcher
Theo Walcott scored after 44 seconds before a Johan Djourou header and a strike from Robin van Persie put Arsenal 3-0 ahead inside 10 minutes.
Van Persie headed Arsenal’s fourth but Abou Diaby saw red after the break for pushing Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan.
Barton scored penalties either side of a strike from Leon Best before Cheik Tiote’s long-range equaliser.
It was a blistering strike from Tiote, who showed great technique to volley the ball into the bottom corner from 20 yards with three minutes of normal time left.
The goal prompted wild celebrations inside St James’ Park and completed one of the most remarkable second-half performances in the history of the Premier League.
Newcastle were completely blown away during the opening half of the match but worked up a head of steam after the interval that saw them score four goals in 19 minutes against a bruised and beleaguered Arsenal.
The result is the perfect tonic for Newcastle, coming at the end of a week that saw the departure of Andy Carroll to Liverpool on Monday and an injury to Shola Ameobi during Wednesday’s defeat at Fulham.
Arsenal could have kept the pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United, but they crumbled after the dismissal of Diaby.
The confidence and attacking flair that had characterised their play in the opening half was replaced after the break by a shaky and unsure side that could not defend a handsome lead against a team that had not won in their previous four games.
Arsenal had a frustrating time against the Magpies at the Emirates earlier in the season, creating a host of chances but eventually losing 1-0.
They quickly swept away those bad memories as their afternoon got off to the perfect start on Tyneside when Walcott struck the quickest goal of the day after recalled duo Diaby and Andrey Arshavin combined to send him through.
Fabricio Coloccini was momentarily level with Walcott but the England international quickly out-paced the Argentine before placing his shot in the bottom corner.
Arshavin then swung in a free-kick for a determined Djourou to head his first competitive goal for the Gunners.
As much as the visiting team were slicing open their opponents with decisive attacking play, Newcastle were also guilty of some abysmal defending.
Walcott was given far too much space to pick out Van Persie with a crisp pull-back after Jose Enrique stood off him and the unmarked Dutchman gratefully guided the ball beyond Steve Harper.
Van Persie ghosted between Mike Williamson and Coloccini to head Arsenal’s third and he almost completed a first-half hat-trick but Harper saved his low strike at his near post.
Arsenal’s cause was not helped when centre-back Djourou limped off after 48 minutes to be replaced by Sebastien Squillaci.
But the pivotal moment in the match came after 50 minutes when Diaby was dismissed by referee Phil Dowd.
The France international completely lost his composure after he and Barton both challenged for a loose ball.
The Arsenal midfielder put one hand on the back of Barton’s neck before pushing him to the floor and then shoved Nolan.
Keeper Wojciech Szczesny denied Danny Simpson seconds later but Newcastle’s improvement was rewarded with a goal, Barton sending Szczesny the wrong way after Laurent Koscielny clumsily brought down Best.
An unsavoury incident followed the goal when Kevin Nolan tangled with Szczesny as he tried to retrieve the ball from the back of the net.
Szczesny palmed clear a header from Williamson before Toon striker Best had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside.
However, Best did make it 4-2 when he beat Clichy to a cross from Jose Enrique and shot beyond Szczesny from eight yards.
Some of the Newcastle supporters had appeared to leave at half-time, despondent at the scoreline, but by now the vast majority who remained were passionately roaring on their team.
And Newcastle scored again when Barton struck his second spot-kick after Koscielny was adjudged to have fouled Williamson as they challenged for an aerial ball.
And one of the most amazing comebacks was completed when Tiote smashed a strike from the edge of the box into the bottom corner after Arsenal failed to clear a free-kick.