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Rafa Benitez revels in his Newcastle dream team

Matt’s my boy:
DeAndre Yedlin
(left) celebrates
with Newcastle
Ritchie at St
James’ Park

Newcastle 2—1 Arsenal

RAFAEL BENITEZ admitted he could not have dreamt Newcastle would smash through the Premier League’s 40-point barrier with five games to spare.

The Magpies cemented their unlikely place in the top ten with a 2-1 comeback victory over Arsenal at St James’ Park yesterday to ease themselves to 41 points and 13 clear of the drop-zone.

That seemed highly unlikely back in December when a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal saw Newcastle complete a run of nine games which yielded just a single point.

Benitez, who celebrates his 58th birthday today, said: ‘We were not expecting to be in the top ten but at the same time I said we were dreaming, but we were awake and thinking that we could do it.

‘If you see the way the players were working for every single ball, everybody was pushing in the same direction and that’s key when you want to succeed.’

Alexandre Lacazette had fired the visitors, whose season now rests on their Europa League fortunes, into a 14th-minute lead, only for Ayoze Perez to level against the run of play. Newcastle’s first victory in 12 against Arsenal was secured by Matt Ritchie’s strike.

The win effectively guaranteed the Magpies’ top-flight status and, asked where that ranked in his career, Benitez said: ‘You want me to say that it’s like the Champions League (win with Liverpool) in 2005! It’s a great achievement.’

Exasperated boss Arsene Wenger said defeat was ‘the story of Arsenal’s season’, adding: ‘We had 70 per cent of the ball and you wonder how you can lose.’

■ 4 — Years since Newcastle had come from behind to win a top-flight home game

■ 0 — Points Arsenal have taken from five Premier League away games in 2018