Final Score: Arsenal 7 Newcastle United 3
TRUST Newcastle. It takes a special degree of ineptitude to score six goals in the space of three days at Manchester United and Arsenal yet still emerge from the Christmas schedule in a state of complete disarray, but the Magpies have managed it with aplomb.
Not content with being involved in a seven-goal thriller at Old Trafford, Alan Pardew's schizophrenic side conceded seven goals by themselves at the Emirates, the first time Newcastle had ever shipped as many in a single Premier League game.
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Six of the goals came in 39 second-half minutes, with the final four arriving in a chaotic 17-minute spell that saw the Magpies defence completely implode.
It wasn't Newcastle's heaviest Premier League defeat, and there were mitigating factors for the collapse, most notably the fact that a London Underground strike meant Arsenal's players had been sitting with their feet up while their opponents had been slogging away for no reward against the league leaders on Wednesday.
But the upshot was an embarrassing end to 2012, a year that has delivered plenty, but which will end with Newcastle in desperate trouble just three points above the relegation zone.
“We conceded seven goals and we can't do that,” said a shell-shocked Pardew, who now faces the difficult task of lifting his patched-up squad ahead of Wednesday's home game with an in-form Everton. “I'm disappointed with the scoreline, I really am.
“But when I was looking from the sideline, there was a definite difference between the two teams in terms of energy levels. Also, it wasn't often last season that we went into a game with Perchy (James Perch) at centre-half.
“He's been doing terrific for us in midfield and I thought we missed him a little bit in there, just to shore the game up. What you gain from him in terms of him stepping in at centre-half, we missed in midfield. I thought we missed (Vurnon) Anita as well. We missed two key players on top of the injury list we had.”
It is true that Newcastle continue to miss key players, but that cannot excuse the degree of complete disintegration that was apparent during the closing quarter of a game that was initially much closer than the final scoreline suggests.
The visitors were defensively insecure throughout, but having clawed back a deficit on three separate occasions thanks to a double from Demba Ba, who now boasts 13 goals for the season, and a close-range strike from the impressive Sylvain Marveaux, the Magpies entered the final 20 minutes of the game in decent shape.
Then, however, the wheels came off completely, with Theo Walcott completing a hat-trick he had started in the first half, and substitute Olivier Giroud grabbing two goals in the space of three minutes to add to earlier second-half strikes from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski.
The worst moments from a Newcastle perspective? Take your pick. Arsenal's first goal was bad enough, with Davide Santon's dreadful positioning playing Walcott onside, and their second also owed much to some desultory defending, with Santon standing off Oxlade-Chamberlain as he drilled home from the edge of the box.
Walcott's second strike saw the England international granted the freedom of the penalty area as he shuffled the ball on to his right foot to fire home, while his hat-trick strike saw him fall to the ground under the challenge of Gabriel Obertan yet still have time to pick himself up, regain his balance and chip a delicate chip past Tim Krul.
Newcastle's defending had been poor at Fulham and Manchester United earlier in the month, but this was on a different level entirely, with Santon and Danny Simpson exposed time and time again in the full-back berths, an out-of-position Perch unable to cope with Walcott's movement and skipper Fabricio Coloccini's form continuing on the downward spiral that has made him more problem than protector in the last couple of months.
For all that Pardew talks of injuries exposing a lack of proven talent, the major worry from the last two matches is that it is the club's most experienced players who have performed most abjectly.
Cheik Tiote was miles off the pace at the weekend, as he has been for the vast majority of the season, and Papiss Cisse continues to look like a fish out of water when posited on the right flank.
There were bright spots, most notably the eye-catching display of Marveaux, who scored one goal and set up another, the positive impact of Obertan, whose lung-bursting run to the byline set up Marveaux's goal, and Ba, whose scoring run shows no sign of drying up.
But they were completely eclipsed by the deficiencies that proved so costly late on and with just 20 points from their opening 20 matches, and eight defeats from their last ten league outings, Newcastle will start 2013 embroiled in a relegation battle.
“The need for points is fairly pressing now,” admitted Obertan, who also won the free-kick that led to Ba's first goal, which deflected off Jack Wilshere. “We need to get out of this zone.
“It's going to be difficult, but I think we have the group to do that. We are missing two or three players, but that is not an excuse. I think we've got the players to do that and the whole club must be behind us now.
“We try not to think about it (relegation). There are quite a lot of games still to play, and we are not really at that point (a relegation battle) at the moment. We don't talk about it.
“We managed to score three goals at the Emirates, which is a very difficult thing to do. But that fourth goal just killed us in terms of spirit. We played very well at Old Trafford in midweek and that was a very hard game for us. I think we lost some confidence after the fourth goal here, and we were really tired. They did not play in midweek and I think that played a massive role.
“There is a lot of positive stuff, but at the end of the day people just remember who lost and who won. In the group, we know what we are doing right and we know what we have to work on. We did great scoring goals, but we have to progress and improve on the defensive side of things.”