Arsenal leave it late to close gap on Spurs

Last-gasp Vermaelen strike sees Gunners win fifth straight Premier League game and move to within a point of arch rivals

ARSENAL 2 vs NEWCASTLE 1

ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger lauded a “relentless effort” after unlikely hero Thomas Vermaelen’s 94th-minute winner swept his side to within a point of rivals Tottenham.

The centre-back finally made Gunners pressure tell as Wenger’s die-hards came from behind for the fourth consecutive match -- a new Premier League record.

Captain Robin van Persie, involved in a bust-up with Toon goalkeeper Tim Krul, earlier equalised less than a minute after Hatem Ben Arfa had given the visitors a shock lead.

Wenger said: “It shows we have quality and spirit, which I never questioned. It was a relentless effort again from the first to last minute, the tempo was top level and we just kept going -- and certainly the fact that we’d done it before helped.

“Where we finish is down to how we keep going and if we put that same amount of effort into every single game.”

Van Persie and Krul, repeatedly booed for apparent time-wasting, were booked after clashing following the late winner. Newcastle manager Alan Pardew called it “a bit of verbal” that “spilled over”, but played down the spat.

Victory tightened Arsenal’s grip on fourth place -- and a Champions League spot -- and drew them ever nearer third-placed Spurs. Man of the match Theo Walcott, who set up both goals, said: “Tottenham have to be watching over their shoulders now.”

Newcastle, who have lost five of their last six away games, remain sixth, but might have glanced at the top four themselves after 14 minutes when Ben Arfa cut in from the right and embarrassed Wojciech Szczesny at his near post with a fine low shot.

Just 53 seconds later Arsenal drew level, however, Walcott crossing for Van Persie, who held off Mike Williamson before slipping past Krul.

The Dutch goalkeeper thwarted Tomas Rosicky, Van Persie and Vermaelen in a series increasingly desperate second-half onslaughts but could not deny the latter deep into stoppage time, the Belgian bundling home following another dangerous Walcott delivery.