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Blow for Ireland defender Clark as Arsenal boost Champions League hopes

The centre-back went off injured during Newcastle’s 4-0 loss and could be a doubt for next month’s encounter with Slovakia.

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe (left) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with team-mates.
Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe (left) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with team-mates.
Image: John Walton

ARSENAL EARNED A convincing 4-0 win over Newcastle in the Premier League today.

A bad day for the Magpies got worse as Ciaran Clark hobbled off with an injury in the second half.

The 30-year-old defender, who has been in good form of late, could now be a doubt for Ireland’s crucial Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia next month.

Clark has been used sparingly since McCarthy took charge, but has come into contention for selection since winning his place back in the Newcastle side under Steve Bruce, and he featured off the bench in the 1-1 draw against Denmark last November.

The win was just the second of Mikel Arteta’s reign and their first victory since New Year’s Day.

Second half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette won it for the Gunners, which left them in 10th, but just six points adrift of Tottenham in fifth.

Manchester City’s two-season ban from European competition means fifth will be enough to secure a Champions League place unless the English champions succeed in appealing that sanction to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Arteta, who left City to take his first senior managerial role at the Emirates in December, could be the beneficiary of his former employers’ punishment.

And there was plenty of encouragement for the Spaniard in Arsenal’s second half performance after an all too familiar subdued first 45 minutes.

Both sides started the day in the bottom half of the table on 31 points and it showed before the break.

The visitors had the better chances as Joelinton screwed wide before Bernd Leno turned Sean Longstaff’s deflected shot to safety.

Arteta handed Eddie Nketiah his first Premier League start up front at the expense of the out-of-form Lacazette.

However, it took over half an hour for the 20-year-old to get a sight of goal when he fired too close to Martin Dubravka.

Nketiah should have scored when he hit the bar from Pepe’s cut-back in an explosive start to the second period from Arsenal.

But Aubameyang showed his young apprentice how to pounce in front of goal as he rose highest to power home Pepe’s floated cross on 54 minutes.

One of the revelations of Arteta’s early days in charge has been Bukayo Saka’s performances as a makeshift left-back.

No Arsenal player has created more goals than the 18-year-old this season and Saka nutmegged Valentino Lazaro before teeing up Pepe to fire home the hosts’ second from close range.

Newcastle have scored just 24 goals in 26 league games this season and their lack of a goal threat was obvious as they chased the game in the final half hour.

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Before going off, Clark spurned a great chance to bring the Magpies back into the game by firing wide with just Leno to beat before the mercurial Allan Saint-Maximin curled a shot off the post.

Lacazette replaced Nketiah five minutes from time and made a huge impact to give his confidence a much-needed boost.

Firstly, the Frenchman crossed for Ozil, whose tame shot squirmed through Dubravka’s grasp.

Luck then shone on Lacazette to end a nine-game goal drought as his right-footed shot flicked off his left foot and flew into the top corner in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Additional reporting by AFP

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Paul Fennessy

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