Result: Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle
Competition: FA Cup
Date: 9 January 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Cedric, Luiz, Mari, Tierney, Elneny, Willock, Willian, Pepe, Martinelli, Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Saka, Nelson, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Lacazette
Goals in extra time by Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saw Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 to secure a place in the FA Cup 4th round.
The Gunners had to dig deep for victory at the Emirates and were thankful for stoppage-time interventions by Bernd Leno, who made a fine stop to deny Andy Carroll, and VAR, which persuaded referee Chris Kavanagh to reverse a decision to send off Smith Rowe, who’d only been on the field for half an hour.
As the game edged towards a penalty shootout, the Gunners finally worked their way through the visitors’ stubborn defence to make their dominance pay.
Mikel Arteta made seven changes from the side that started against West Brom last weekend. Bernd Leno, Pablo Mari, Kieran Tierney and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang retained their places otherwise it was a chance to shine for players who’ve been injured, out-of-form or on the fringes of things in recent weeks. Cedric and David Luiz came into the backline, Joe Willock and Mo Elneny sat behind Willian in midfield and Pepe and Reiss Nelson provided the guile on the flanks. Gabriel Martinelli had been due to start but suffered an ankle injury in the warm-up. Four Academy graduates sat on the bench, but there wasn’t room for teenager Folarin Balogun.
Early efforts by Reiss Nelson and Nicolas Pepe suggested Arsenal wanted to take the game by the scruff of the neck but after that early flurry of activity, we found it very tough going breaking through Newcastle’s defensive set-up.
The Gunners had lots of possession but moments of real quality were sorely lacking. Pepe and Willock were both profligate in possession; the former twice overhitting passes over the visitors’ backline trying to find Nelson who’d made intelligent runs into the box.
In the end, it was a long hoof of a ball by David Luiz that created our best chance of the half. The Brazilian picked out Aubameyang in acres of space and the captain charged into the box before firing hard at Dubravka. The keeper parried the ball back into the path of Willian who for some reason shuffled onto his weaker left foot and then shanked an effort into the empty terraces. It was another half to forget for the summer signing who looks completely bereft of confidence.
Newcastle really didn’t offer much in attack. In fact, Andy Carroll saw far more action in his own box making a series of clearances from Arsenal crosses and corners.
Kieran Tierney, as is regularly the case these days, proved himself a very useful outlet on the left flank. On 28 minutes he made brilliant dart down the wing before picking out Nelson with a nicely weighted cutback. The winger’s first touch left the ball under his feet and from there Newcastle pounced, stopping him from getting a proper shot on goal.
A nice give-and-go between Pepe and Aubameyang set the Ivorian free in the box but he overcomplicated things, trying to take on ex-Gunner Isaac Hayden when he should have gone for goal or looked to find a teammate. It was emblematic of much of our play.
The Geordies looked the more threatening of the two sides in the 10 minutes after the break. Carroll sent a tame header wide and also forced Leno into a save with a well-taken snapshot from 20-yards. He then missed an absolute sitter, side-footing wide having been left unmarked at the back post. He was flagged offside but replays showed he was on. Had he found the net, VAR would have ruled in his favour.
Arteta reacted by sending on Emile Smith Rowe for Reiss Nelson and we immediately started to look better. Elneny picked out Aubameyang’s run behind the defence but the striker couldn’t hit the target as he tried to clip the ball over the keeper with the outside of his right foot. Not long after, Dubravka clawed away a Willock header after the midfielder connected with a decent Pepe cross.
Further changes saw Saka and Xhaka replace Willian and Willock. The pressure continued to build. Pepe curled wide from outside the box. Auba sent a looping header goalwards. Our captain then attempted a first-time volley from 25-yards as a clearance landed enticingly in his path. It had Dubravka back peddling but went over. Saka went next, blasting over.
Carroll refused to let us have it all our own way. After a mix-up in the Arsenal defence, he gathered a loose ball and hammered a shot that needed to be deflected wide. From the resulting corner, Hendrick flicked wide at the near post.
We struggled to find another gear in the closing stages but did win a free-kick in stoppage time from which Pepe sent a cross into the box. David Luiz got his head on the ball but Dubravka claimed easily and sprung a counter.
Newcastle worked the ball from the right flank into the middle and Carroll had a golden opportunity to win it at the back post. Leno saved the day getting down brilliantly before nicking the ball away from the striker as he went for the rebound.
Amazingly, the drama didn’t stop there. Just before the game went to extra time, referee Chris Kavanagh flashed a red card at Smith Rowe for a challenge on Longstaff. VAR suggested he take another look and the decision was reversed. It was to prove very important.
After the heart-stopping finale to regulation time, we recovered our composure after a quick pep talk from the boss. Smith Rowe had an effort deflected wide and Xhaka nearly scored a screamer on the volley. He was denied by a fine one-handed save by Dubravka. Playing out on the left, Saka twice got into dangerous positions but his final ball was lacking. Brilliant defending by Matt Ritchie then denied Pepe who’d collected a long ball by Pablo Mari, cut inside and unleashed a left foot shot.
Arteta did his best to keep the troops motivated in the seconds between the switch of ends. Possibly with one eye on a penalty shootout, Lacazette came on for Pepe. It was a decisive change. On 109 minutes the Frenchman cushioned a lovely header into the path of Smith Rowe who took the ball on his chest and, from an acute angle, found the net via the post with a shot across the keeper. It was a fine finish from the young man. On the touchline, Arteta looked bloody relieved. (1-0)
With four minutes remaining, Aubameyang finished the job tapping home a Tierney cross after the Scot had been played behind his marker by Xhaka. It was a polished ending to a scrappy day at the office. (2-0)