This felt like an opportunity missed for Alan Pardew’s new model Magpies.
Considering the way it had been billed as a chance to lay a glove on one of the Premier League’s heavyweight contenders, Newcastle’s performance fell short of the gold standard set during their winter surge into serious contention.
No great disaster, admittedly, but a sobering reminder of the hard work which lies in front of Newcastle’s hierarchy in 2014 if they are to capitalise on the momentum of the last few months.
We learned something about Newcastle here.
As good as they have been during an nine-week block when they have matched the division’s very best, they are still slightly short of the exacting level Arsenal and company are measuring themselves against.
The rope-a-dope strategy of sitting back and picking off the big guns might have seen off Manchester United and Chelsea but Arsenal, even without Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, were too savvy to fall for the black-and-white sucker-punch.
For the first time since he struck upon his successful midfield formula, Newcastle lost the engine-room battle – and with it they conceded the battle.
That they should have spent more time on the front foot in this contest is debatable.
Smashed for seven this time last year, Pardew has long abandoned the idea Newcastle should go blow-for-blow with the bigger teams in the Premier League and they now play to their strengths: efficiency, effort and endeavour.
To be fair, for long periods it was a strategy which saw them very much in this game.
They ended the first half in the ascendancy and in Mathieu Debuchy they had the game’s most outstanding performer.
However, there was also something missing, Pardew’s ‘X Factor’ performer Yohan Cabaye looking strangely off-key on a day when United ached for an injection of creative impetus.
Quite simply everything enterprising Newcastle do goes through Cabaye but, pushed forward to support Loic Remy, he looked ill at ease on a day when United’s thrusting counter-attacks were conspicious by their absence.
Arsenal, by comparison, controlled the possession and by doing that they always looked as if they might nick a contestighter than a drum for a good hour or so.
Sure enough, the killer blow arrived on 65 minutes when United went to sleep on a Gunners’ dead ball and allowed Olivier Giroud – once on Newcastle’s radar before they signed Demba Ba – to nod past Tim Krul.
A United riposte failed to arrive and anxiety around Loic Remy’s form continues to snowball.
United’s chief threat is a goal poacher in the Papiss Cisse mould but, just as the former Freiburg man saw an explosive start with the club peter out, Remy’s effectiveness appears to be withering as the weeks go on.
It is a phenomenon Pardew needs to arrest if they are to continue to build on the advances made over the last few weeks.
Two goals against a nine-man Stoke proved the instinct is there but when they are failing to get him involved Remy’s involvement is minimal.
As marked as United’s improvement has been in recent months, they end the year in eighth place.
For all the hullabaloo, for a club of United’s stature, that would be a satisfactory but unspectacular finish to this up-and-down season.
They could – and should – tilt for more, but the pressing question is whether the owner and others have the appetite to do so in a season which brims with opportunity.
With the transfer window about to swing open, we will soon discover whether Pardew’s bullishness will be matched by the actions of his employer, who was again absent from St James’ Park yesterday.