Well, the Gunners wrapped it up in the end with a comfortable-looking 2-0 win against the Magpies but in reality, the third round Arsenal vs Newcastle tie in the FA Cup was anything but.
Newcastle, with the depleted ranks through Covid, set out their plan early by defending deep in great numbers and occasionally causing mischief up the other end, with Andy Carroll posing a threat with his awkward style and overly large frame. He was also as industrious in defence but the Toon fans had to hold their breath a few times as his headers went perilously close to his own goal.
Mikel Arteta tried to preserve his winning hand by resting key players for the Arsenal vs Newcastle tie including Saka and Smith Rowe who have had such an impact in recent games. It was obvious that the voluntary changes by Arteta made it difficult to hit their stride and penetrate the Newcastle goal. There were chances but Steve Bruce’s side held their lines and fought hard for every single ball.
Although this will in no way be considered a classic of any kind, it had its moments especially when the clock was running down in the second half. Arsenal may have been playing with a form of mild shock in the first half after watching Gabriel Martinelli fall to the ground in the warm-up.
Fans will be hoping it’s not a recurrence of a knee injury and that it won’t prevent him from featuring again this season. My mind recalled how the Brazilian was upended by Manchester City’s keeper Zack Stefan in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup and if anything, this latest injury could be traced back to that moment.
Arsenal had the look of a cobbled together side with players that you couldn’t imagine playing in any other game and it was clear that the experience of David Luiz, the ambition of Kieran Tierney, and the agility of Bernd Leno might be crucial in the game. Although Smith Rowe and Aubameyang will grab the headlines, the performances of the aforementioned trio kept the Gunners on track.
As much as Lineker and Co were bemoaning the lack of action in MOTD, Newcastle were guilty of making this less of a contest and more a war of attrition by stifling Arsenal who had limited penetration. Yes, the Arsenal vs Newcastle clash wasn’t a thriller but as the game went on, it started to look considerably more exciting and in the 55th minute, the Arsenal goal had a scare from Andy Carroll who couldn’t squeeze the ball past an alert Leno.
Arsenal were crying out for a change with Willock and Willian looking like tired passengers on the ‘going nowhere fast express’. Both were guilty of squandered possession regularly and Willock was lucky not to pick up a pair of yellows with some haphazard ankle tapping.
Carroll went close again but fluffed his lines (56) as he was judged to be offside, but replays showed that if it had gone in and VAR had taken a look, then Newcastle would have snatched the lead. Emile Smith Rowe came on around the 63rd minute and suddenly, Arsenal fans thought that a breakthrough could be on the cards. Two minutes later and Saka joined the heir apparent to the number 10 role along with Xhaka, suddenly the team looked better for the changes.
Aubameyang was still shy of a goal but as I said in the podcast, once he got one I suspected he would reboot and start stacking them up once again. Leno, who has been the subject of debate since Arsenal sold Martinez justified the decision with a stunning save from the annoyingly good Andy Carroll in 90 plus. He had to somehow come out of a dazzling save to leap forward and smother the ball to keep away from Geordie boots.
If that wasn’t enough from the drama department, Emile Smith Rowe clipped Longstaff with his shoelaces but the Newcastle player made much of minimal contact by screaming aloud in an empty stadium which drew a red card from the pocket of Chris Kavanagh. Thankfully, VAR revealed that SR wasn’t guilty of anything other than a yellow card and in my opinion, it wasn’t worthy of that.
Extra time in the Arsenal vs Newcastle game and the Gunners tried to push the envelope to get the crucial goal. Smith Rowe (109) struck the ball hard and low in the diagonal to the right from a tight angle, in an evening where his emotions must have been conflicting. This player is going to be key, not only can he create and link up but he can score, something Arsenal have lacked from a central position in their side. More importantly, there’s a sense that he can change games with his limitless invention and energy.
The Gunners didn’t have to wait long to kill off the Arsenal vs Newcastle game when just 7 minutes after the Smith Rowe strike, the Arsenal skipper found his touch from an exquisite Tierney cross. Arsenal had got through a tricky tie and they will no doubt have to endure something similar on their travels if they are to retain the FA Cup trophy, but what a pity for Newcastle who gave everything and nearly knicked it.