SO much for catching Arsenal at the right time then. With the Gunners halfway through their Europa League semi-final with Villarreal, and with a deficit to overhaul in Thursday’s second leg at the Emirates, this was supposed to be a golden opportunity for Newcastle to profit from Mikel Arteta’s side having their minds elsewhere. Instead, after a month of gradual improvement, it was an afternoon when the Magpies reverted to type.

A first defeat since March should not cause too much damage in terms of Newcastle’s league position, with the nine-point gap that continues to separate them from 18th-placed Fulham providing a fair amount of security with just four more games to play.

However, after a spurt of positivity as the Magpies went through the whole of April unbeaten, the routine manner in which they were brushed aside by an Arsenal side that started the day in the bottom half of the table served as something of a reality check.

Steve Bruce might claim his side is a different proposition when he has his best players available, but as yesterday proved, even with their star men, Newcastle are a long way short of the established big boys. Unless there is significant money spent this summer – and that currently looks unlikely – it is hard to see how next season will be any different to the current campaign.

Newcastle’s recent good run justified Bruce’s decision to change defensive formation, but this way a day when playing with five at the back did not really work.

Jacob Murphy and Matt Ritchie were unable to get forward in their respective wing-back positions, so the hosts found themselves struggling to get sufficient numbers into the Arsenal half. Jonjo Shelvey and Sean Longstaff were outplayed by Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos, with their lack of mobility a key factor, ensuring that the Gunners were able to dominate throughout.

Newcastle, on the other hand, were on the back foot from the word go and fell behind after just five minutes. Hector Bellerin broke beyond Ritchie down the Arsenal right, and pulled the ball into the area for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was returning to the visitors’ starting line-up after a bout of malaria. Aubameyang missed his kick, but the ball broke invitingly for Elneny, who was able to sweep home from the edge of the area.

Martin Dubravka saved another effort from Elneny shortly before the half-hour mark, and Newcastle would have been further behind at the break had it not been for goalline clearances from Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson.

Newcastle’s only first-half effort saw Mathew Ryan tip Allan Saint-Maximin’s scuffed effort over the crossbar, and while the Magpies’ French maverick embarked on a couple of dangerous dribbles, he was well shackled by a combination of Luiz, who limped off in the early stages of the second half, and Gabriel.

Bruce was slow to change things, and by the time he introduced Joelinton and Fabian Schar in the 72nd minute, Arsenal had deservedly doubled their advantage. Aubameyang has been a thorn in Newcastle’s side on a number of occasions since they scouted him repeatedly when he was at Borussia Dortmund, and he claimed the goal his bright attacking display merited midway through the second half. Gabriel Martinelli crossed, and Aubameyang acrobatically volleyed home from inside the six-yard box.

That was really that, although Newcastle were reduced to ten men in the final minute when Schar mistimed his sliding challenge on Martinelli and was dismissed.