Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle: Better Late Than Never
Final Result: Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle (Smith-Rowe 109′, Aubameyang 117′)
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Leno; Cedric (Maitland-Niles 120′), D. Luiz, Mari, Tierney; Elneny, Willock (Xhaka 66′), Pepe (Lacazette 106′), Willian (Saka 66′), Nelson (Smith-Rowe 56′), Aubameyang
With the Gunners riding on a high, it was important to get some momentum in their first defense of the FA Cup for the campaign against Newcastle. Steve Bruce’s side has blown hot and cold this season but on their day they could be a threat to contend with. With the games coming thick and fast in the festive period, it was expected that players would get some rest with other squad members filling in their stead.
I was certain Runar Runarsson wouldn’t get a run out following his howler in the Carabao Cup, so Bernd Leno continued between the sticks. However, Kieran Tierney and Pablo Mari kept their places following the West Brom game while Cedric Soares and David Luiz got some much needed game time ahead of Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding. Joe Willock started alongside Mo Elneny in the central midfield positions while Willian played in the attacking midfield role. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spearheaded the attack and was flanked by Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli, but we received some news that Martinelli was injured in the warm up and was replaced by Reiss Nelson.
Arsenal was expected to be on the ascendancy and the first meaningful attack of the game arrived when Aubameyang was sent clean on goal from the right, so he had to improvise with the outside of his boot but the returning Martin Dubravka was on hand to make a superb stop. Early in the second half, Newcastle had the chance to grab the lead when Jeff Hendrick’s effort fell kindly to Andy Carroll but his side-footed shot beat an onrushing Leno and missed by a lick of paint. Elneny dinked another sumptuous ball to Aubameyang and his effort went wide off the mark. I got really concerned as the club’s talisman has found goals hard to come by this season and one can only hope he gets his scoring mojo back.
Tierney worked well with Pepe whose in-swinging cross was headed goalwards on the ground by Willock but Dubravka turned to a peak Oblak and made another magnificent save. Arsenal were made to almost rue those misses when Carroll was one on one with Leno right at the death. The Arsenal goalie made an outstanding save from the Newcastle forward and did even better with the follow up, smothering the ball before Carroll could get a rebound. With replays scrapped, the game went into extra time. Substitute, Granit Xhaka almost gave the team the lead with a dipping shot that found its mark but Dubravka was in inspired form, making another stellar save.
Then came the turning point of the match. Emile Smith-Rowe had been playing well for his side but his defensive instincts took center stage as he attempted a tackle to win the ball but the Newcastle player got on the end of his boot due to his momentum and shockingly, Chris Kavanagh brandished a red card.
Thankfully, the folks at the VAR room communicated to the ref, who also decided to have a look yet again, thereby overturning his decision and changing it to a yellow card. With Arsenal still having all its players intact, it only made sense for three of the subs to combine awesomely to score the all-important match opener. Smith-Rowe robbed a Newcastle midfielder off the ball in midfield, fed Bukayo Saka and continued his foray forward, Saka lobbed the ball to Alexandre Lacazette who intelligently cushioned his header to Smith-Rowe’s path. Following some exquisite control, the young midfielder’s first-timed effort beat Dubravka, clipped the post and went in. The game was put beyond doubt when Xhaka threaded a killer pass in behind the Newcastle defense to Tierney that provided another sweet cut back from the byline that found Aubameyang who finished aplomb.
The captain needed that goal like I need FPL points for my team, Stagnetti’s Revenge, but more importantly, the Gunners continued their good run of form and qualified to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. There were some concerns on the performances of Willian and Pepe in particular, who failed to impress yet again, and I see no reason why they should be included in Arteta’s Premier League starting lineup against Crystal Palace.
This goal was massive for Emile Smith-Rowe that continued to justify his selection in the side and I was particularly happy for Lacazette that has shown that he’s undroppable at the moment. In his little cameo appearance, he continued to showcase his influence in the center forward position, getting that lovely assist for his teammate. Finally, it was good to see Aubameyang that has scored just his sixth goal in his 18th appearance this season. The Gabonese forward thrives on goals and hopefully his confidence would improve as we need him to get on the scoring act in the coming Premier League games.
Despite the positives, the major negative from the game was Martinelli’s injury prior to kickoff that was confirmed by the gaffer,
“I am gutted. I was in my office before the game and one of the coaches came in and told me that Gabi had hurt himself, that he’d twisted his ankle.
“I went to the medical room and he was in tears. He was in a lot of pain and we’re going to have to see how he is. It didn’t look good. He was in pain so I imagine that we’re not going to have good news with him.”
The Gunners take on Crystal Palace on Thursday, which is just four days from now, but I’d rather bask in the euphoria of yet another win, as they seem to be coming the frequency I expect.
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