Arsenal 0-0 Newcastle United (2-0 AET): FA Cup – 11/01/2021

Despite the doom and gloom of missing out on Champions League football for the past few years, Arsenal fans have become somewhat accustomed to seeing the FA Cup take pride of place in the Arsenal trophy cabinet. The club are currently the record holders of the competition (with 14) and are the current holders, after defeating Chelsea last season.

For what has so far been something of a disappointing campaign, it was an excellent chance for Arsenal to begin their defence of the cup at home against Newcastle United.

There were a few changes to the side that smashed West Brom 4-0 earlier in the week as Cédric Soares, David Luiz, Mohamed Elneny, Joe Willock, Nicolas Pépé, Willian and Reiss Nelson all came into the team. Gabriel Martinelli had been expected to start the match, however, the Brazilian had to drop out owing to an injury sustained in the warm-up.

Granit Xhaka’s spectacular volley was kept out by Martin Dúbravka.

The first-half was a fairly inglorious affair for both teams, Arsenal twisted and turned in their attempts to find the net, but were ultimately unsuccessful, with Newcastle defending far too low for Arsenal to really find much by way of penetration.

The second-half saw Newcastle come into the game more. The looming presence of Andy Carroll was a constant threat and though he was mostly kept at bay by the well drilled back four, the England striker came the closest to scoring with a heart-stopping moment in the first-half in which Bernd Leno was called into action to keep the score at 0-0, with the German international producing a truly superb save.

Another heart stopping moment came in the form of Emile Smith Rowe. The youngster has been a revelation for Arsenal in recent weeks, however, he looked all set for a three-match ban as he was shown a red card for a late tackle on Sean Longstaff. However, VAR overturned the decision and Smith Rowe was booked instead.

Extra time was something both Mikel Arteta and Steve Bruce would have wanted to have avoided, however, neither team having scored and replays no longer played in the third round meant only one thing.

Arsenal came the closest in the first-half with Granit Xhaka’s thunderbolt of a volley impressively kept out by Martin Dúbravka who was just able to parry it over.

The second-half finally brought an end to the deadlock. The introduction of Alexandre Lacazette saw Arsenal better able to collect the ball from deep and able to hold the defence at bay further up the field, with the Frenchman’s header finding its way into Smith Rowe’s path, who finished off a superb shot into the far corner to give Arsenal the lead.

Emile Smith Rowe celebrates scoring the game’s opener.

Around eight minutes later, the always impressive Kieran Tierney was picked out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a sumptuous cross, which the Gabon striker took with relish to end what has been an unendurable goal drought for the Arsenal captain to give Arsenal a deserved 2-0 win.

It wasn’t a pretty game for either side, but Arsenal in particular will not be happy with how they performed. An extra thirty minutes of football will not have done anyone any favours at all, especially since the fixture list is already a congested mess.

Despite this, it was nevertheless important to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back on the scoresheet. The striker has not scored since the 1-1 draw with Southampton back in December and has cut something of a frustrated figure on the field in that time, but his goal at the weekend will hopefully give him the confidence he needs heading into Arsenal’s next match against Crystal Palace.

It was also another very encouraging performance from Emile Smith Rowe. The youngster has looked irreplaceable in recent weeks and his performances seem to vindicate Arteta and Edu’s decisions to leave out Mesut Özil, if only Arsenal could have done it sooner. Though he is unlikely to be a long-term solution, he will be a welcome addition to the first-team until such time as a replacement can be sourced.

Another standout performer was Pablo Marí. The Spaniard looked likely to be little more than a back-up to Gabriel Magalhães, however, Marí has fully stepped up to the plate in the Brazilian’s absence and looks to be a worthy contender as a starter. Though the former Flamengo defender is perhaps not as quick as his Brazilian counter-part, he seems to read the game well, much like Per Mertesacker.

Though it was by no means vintage Arsenal, a win is a win and the current holders will be happy to have progressed to round four.

Arsenal team:
1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares
23.) David Luiz
22.) Pablo Marí
3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny
28.) Joe Willock
19.) Nicolas Pépé
24.) Reiss Nelson
12.) Willian
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
21.) Calum Chambers
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
30.) Eddie Nketiah
9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Newcastle United team:
1.) Martin Dúbravka
17.) Emil Krafth
14.) Isaac Hayden
6.) Jamaal Lascelles (c)
2.) Ciaran Clark
3.) Paul Dummett
36.) Sean Longstaff
16.) Jeff Hendrick
24.) Miguel Almirón
9.) Joelinton
7.) Andy Carroll

Newcastle United subs:
29.) Mark Gillespie
22.) DeAndre Yedlin
23.) Jacob Murphy
11.) Matt Ritchie
57.) Elliot Anderson
4.) Matty Longstaff
12.) Dwight Gayle

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