Arsenal beat Newcastle 7-3 in an astonishing game at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening with Theo Walcott the hat-trick hero. The Magpies played their part in a remarkable match, equalising three times through Demba Ba (twice) and Sylvain Marveaux. But further goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and a brace from substitute Olivier Giroud ensured the Gunners ran out convincing winners in the end.
Arsene Wenger opted to continue with Walcott as a lone forward with Giroud on the bench. There was one change at the back as Per Mertesacker was unavailable through illness so Laurent Koscielny returned to the starting line-up.
Alan Pardew had major selection issues due to injury and suspension. James Perch was forced to partner Fabricio Coloccini in defence, while there were rare Premier League starts for Marveaux, Gabriel Obertan and Gael Bigirimana in midfield.
Unusually given that they conceded seven goals, Newcastle enjoyed the majority of the possession. That's a particularly rare feat for an away side at the Emirates Stadium but owed much to Arsenal's change of emphasis when Walcott is utilised on his own up front - the England international was far more comfortable racing onto the ball and playing on the break rather than holding it up for team-mates.
In contrast, Newcastle looked for Ba to bring others into play and the visitors had some joy with Davide Santon and Danny Simpson getting forward well in support of their wide-men. Given how far forward Santon played for much of the game it was perhaps ironic that the Magpies should concede the opening goal of the game as a result of the left-back being too deep and playing Walcott onside.
Walcott was the star of the show as he scored the opener, the winner and the final goal of the night in a superb performance. Gunners fans will be particularly encouraged that Giroud also netted twice in his brief outing, while Jack Wilshere continues to impress since returning from injury. Wenger suddenly seems to have a number of choices where once he was scratching around for attacking options.
Newcastle were without the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye but supporters may find some positives in the performances of Marveaux and Obertan - two players who have flattered to deceive thus far. Marveaux, in particular, showed plenty of promise in scoring a goal and producing a magnificent assist for Ba's second. The French duo will be needed if Newcastle are to turn this season around.
Wenger could have abandoned his attacking move of bringing on Giroud when Walcott put his team 4-3 up as the substitute warmed up, but he stuck to his guns and it reaped dividends as the France international scored twice to ensure victory. Pardew was similarly bold but his decision to introduce Shola Ameobi for midfielder Bigirimana was less successful as Newcastle were punished late on.
Although it was a match full of goals, this was not the most fraught game for Chris Foy to referee. In fact, he was not required to issue a yellow card until Santon went into the book late on. Fortunately, this was a match in which the attacking players rather than the officials took centre-stage.
Arsenal looked a club in crisis following their defeat to Bradford in the Capital One Cup but they are now on a run of four consecutive Premier League victories and are up to fifth in the table. Walcott has been an important figure of late, scoring 10 goals in his last 10 games but concerns remain over his future given that he can discuss a free transfer with foreign clubs from next week. The 23-year-old signing a new deal would be a welcome boost.
As for Newcastle, things are looking grim despite having produced yet another spirited performance. Pardew is without key players and it continues to show. They are now more than halfway through the season and sit just three points above the drop zone. With the Africa Cup of Nations and the Europa League likely to unsettle the Magpies further in the New Year, it all points to a difficult season for the North East club.