RAFAEL BENITEZ hailed a “great achievement” as his Newcastle United side passed the 40-point safety mark with five Premier League matches still to play.

While the Magpies still need one more victory to be mathematically certain of competing in the top-flight next season, today’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal effectively secured the club’s top-flight status for another campaign.

Having been in the bottom three as recently as mid-December, Benitez’s side have been on a remarkable run that has seen them suffer just two league defeats, to Manchester City and Liverpool, since the turn of the year.

They are fifth in the Premier League form table in 2018, and now look set for their first top-half finish in the top-flight since the 2013-14 season despite having made only limited additions to the squad that won promotion from the Championship last May.

“I am really pleased because it was important for us to achieve that,” said Benitez, after goals from Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie secured Newcastle’s first home win over Arsenal since 2005. “The way that we did it, every single player, every fan, every member of the staff, I have to congratulate them because it has been a fantastic achievement in a very difficult season.

“We started learning, even though we did not have too much experience for some players in the Premier League, and little by little we were growing and especially in this second part of the league, the team has grown in confidence.

“We were so good in a lot of things that in the end, I think we deserve to be where we are. Some people were dreaming that maybe we could be here, but they were not awake. We were awake, we were believing from day one and we have achieved what we wanted.”

Benitez felt a lack of Premier League experience was counting against his players when they suffered a string of defeats in the autumn, and always expressed confidence that results would improve in the second half of the campaign.

His faith has been justified, with the vast majority of Newcastle’s players having improved markedly as the season has progressed.

Perez and Ritchie have come to the fore in recent weeks, scoring a combined total of six goals in the Magpies’ last six games, but Benitez has been delighted with the way in which all of his players have gradually found their feet in the Premier League.

“What I said during the first part of the season was that some of the teams who were at the bottom with us, they had their players who could change games, players with experience in the Premier League,” he said. “It's not that some of them were better than our players, it's just because they had the experience, they could manage the anxiety, they could manage the pressure in a different way.

“We were learning, we were improving and then you could see the team today, it was a fantastic achievement against a very good team.

“You want me to say that (staying up) is like the Champions League in 2005! It's a great achievement. The difference is that when you win titles, especially if it's a cup, there are fewer games or it's just a final.

“When you achieve something like this, it's during the whole season and you can see the team progressing and improving, so I'm really pleased to see players playing every week much better, learning about what to do in difficult situations.”

While Benitez will be doing everything he can to guard against the prospect of his players switching off in the final five games, thoughts will immediately turn to what will happen on Tyneside during the summer.

The ownership of the club remains a subject of considerable uncertainty, while Benitez’s own future remains unresolved with his current contract due to expire at the end of next season.

Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley will be keen to tie Benitez down to a new long-term deal, but the Newcastle boss continues to insist he is in no rush to make a firm decision over his future plans.

“We will see (what happens),” he said. “Obviously, it is too early because we have just finished, but we have plenty of time to talk about ideas for the future. As I have said before, if everything is right, it is a good opportunity, but everything has to be right.”

Arsene Wenger felt his Arsenal side had done more than enough to claim what would have been their first league away win since the turn of the year, but conceded the Gunners are in a “negative spiral” that is proving extremely difficult to escape from.

“It’s a bit the story of the season,” said Wenger. “We had 70 per cent of the ball, were 1-0 up and in the end you lose 2-1 and you wonder how you can lose this game. That’s what happened. I think the game could have been over at half-time, but we conceded two goals from nowhere.

“Of course it’s a concern because traditionally we have a very strong record away from home. It has a subconscious weight in our minds. Once you’re in a negative spiral like that, it’s very difficult to get out.”