ARSENE Wenger knew the best form of defence would be attack for Arsenal.
And attack they did at the Emirates Stadium.
Again and again and again. Something had to give, and it did.
Injury and suspension-hit Wenger admitted himself before Saturday’s game against Newcastle United that he was taking a “gamble” by playing Mathieu Debuchy in central defence.
It was a gamble that paid off. Handsomely.
Debuchy, as it turned out, was never really tested in an unfamiliar position – he had trained just once there – and his team convincingly won 4-1.
Arsenal broke quickly, and they broke in numbers.
Wenger’s counterpart Alan Pardew, named the Premier League’s manager of the month on the eve of the game, was similarly affected by injuries and suspension.
But 21-year-old goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, making his full debut, wasn’t given nearly enough protection.
And the complaint from United fans as they left the Emirates Stadium and headed for Holloway Road was that their team simply hadn’t had a go.
They hadn’t ran at a defence which even with the suspended Calum Chambers had been found wanting in the Premier League this season.
The selection of Yoan Gouffran ahead of Remy Cabella was questioned.
As it was, Gouffran did little to justify his selection.
But too many players had off-days. Cheik Tiote, for one never got a grip in midfield. He was sloppy, even reckless in one early challenge on Alexis Sanchez.
Newcastle unquestionably missed suspended duo Steven Taylor, watching from a TV studio at the stadium, and Moussa Sissoko.
Unfortunately, Daryl Janmaat picked up a one-game suspension himself for a late booking.
Defender Mike Williamson, in for Taylor, has had better days, but this was as much as collective as individual failure, though Ayoze Perez can be excused of any blame.
The 21-year-old provided the one moment of class from United of the afternoon.
By then, however, things had already gone too far south in North London.
Defender Per Mertsesacker struck Newcastle’s crossbar with a backwards header from a Santi Cazorla corner in the eighth minute, but Arsenal’s breakthrough wasn’t long in coming.
After United lost possession in midfield, they quickly broke forward.
The ball was played to Alexis on the right, who made the byline and crossed for Olivier Giroud – no stranger to scoring against Newcastle – in the box.
Giroud got the better of Janmaat – Debuchy’s replacement – to head past Alnwick.
Danny Welbeck had a well-taken goal unjustly disallowed the slightest of contact with Janmaat soon afterwards.
But the respite, unfortunately, was brief.
United struggled to get out of their own half, and Welbeck put another chance wide of Alnwick’s under-seige goal.
Referee Lee Mason waved away a penalty appeal at the other end of the pitch – Welbeck inadvertently handled the ball in the 33rd minute – and when Newcastle finally had a sight of goal, Wojciech Szczesny was there to intervene.
Szczesny stopped a goal-bound header from Williamson, and also blocked a follow-up shot from Papiss Demba Cisse with his legs.
Cazorla, however, set the ball rolling again for Arsenal after the break.
The attacking midfielder skipped into the box, and past United captain Fabricio Coloccini, and beat Alnwick to make it 2-0 with 54 minutes on the clock.
Giroud netted a third with a flick from a Hector Bellerin cross after the hour-mark approached.
The game, at least for those from Newcastle tucked into one corner of the Emirates Stadium, was enlivened by Perez’s 63rd-minute strike.
Jack Colback delivered a free-kick into the box from the left, and a diving Perez met it with his head to direct it beyond Szczesny.
But there was to be no more goals from United, who conceded a late penalty.
The spot-kick, conceded by Paul Dummett for a foul on Welbeck, was converted by Cazorla, who chipped the ball over Alnwick.
United are back in North London on Wednesday night for a Capital One Cup quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur.
Beyond that, there’s Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
The significance of the two fixtures can’t be under-stated.
And if this result has banished any complacency ahead of them, some good could come of it.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Alnwick 6; Janmaat 5, Williamson 4, Coloccini 5, Dummett 5; Tiote 5, Colback 6; Gouffran 5, PEREZ 7 (Armstrong, 82), Ameobi 5 (Cabella, 56); Cisse 5 (Riviere, 56, 5). Subs not used: Woodman, Haidara, Anita, Vuckic.
ARSENAL: Szczesny, Bellerin, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Maitland-Niles, 90), Alexis (Coquelin, 87), Welbeck, Giroud (Podolski, 73). Subs not used: Martinez, Ajayi, Campbell, Sanogo.
Man of the match: Ayoze Perez. Never stopped running, and scored with a fine header.
Highlight: Perez’s diving header. It was the only moment of genuine class from United.
Lowlight: Newcastle’s defending – Jak Alnwick was left far too exposed.
Goals: Giroud 15, 58, Cazorla 54, 89 (pen), Perez 63
Bookings: Bellerin 37, Oxlade-Chamberlain 57, Tiote 59, Janmaat 81
Referee: Lee Mason (Bolton)