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Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle: Better Late Than Never

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United (aet): Emile Smith Rowe sends below-par  Gunners into fourth round | Goal.com

Match Report – Match Highlights – Post-Match Press Conference

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. 

Emile Smith Rowe goal helps send Arsenal through in FA Cup despite being  shown red card earlier in tie

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.

Sayonara.

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Europa League Remains a Priority but That was a Terrible Performance

So we lost our fifth away game in a row and hold the unwanted record of being the only team that has failed to record a single point away from home in 2018 and we are four months into the year. Our first away game in 2018 was against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup and we largely underperformed coming away from Forest Ground with our tails between our legs. Then we went to the Vitality Stadium and capitulated against a Bournemouth side that was struggling for form. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we connived to lose to a Swansea side, despite scoring first, at the Liberty Stadium while they were at the foot of the table. I didn’t expect any fireworks when we played Tottenham at Wembley, and even the whole ‘we haven’t lost in Wembley for a while‘ bullcrap didn’t hold any water. Petr Cech was the only reason the scoreline remained respectable. Then there was the pathetic loss to Brighton & Hove Albion that was really shameful to say the least.

This essentially meant that the Gunners needed an improved performance against Newcastle to restore some pride in what has been a shambolic season. Yes, we can’t finish in the top four and have laid all our eggs on a Europa League basket, but you still expect these lads to put up a performance deserving of the shirt they are donning. We even started well with 130 million pounds worth of strikers combining to give the Gunners but like it has been all season long, consistent defensive lapses and shabby goalkeeping from a once-respected custodian between the sticks gave the hosts their equalizer. When I remember how Valencia CF hamstrung us to get every penny out for Skhodran Mustafi, it really hurts. This guy is meant to be in the top five of our most expensive signings ever (only behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil) but he has been a massive disappointment this season. When you combine him with Laurent Koscielny that has suffered a terrible loss of form this season, it becomes a recipe for disaster.

Just a week ago, Mustafi lost all awareness of the opposition forward as Shane Long crept in to nick a goal in to give Southampton a shock lead. He didn’t even learn from that mistake as Ayoze Perez reacted quickly to level the tie with a smart finish that went past Cech on his near post. I don’t understand how a footballer would fall short on the same scenario with just one week apart. This is not Jean-Alain Boumsong or Titus Bramble we are discussing about! We all know Mustafi as that guy that would aggressively hit the ground with a sliding tackle first then ask questions later. In the past two league games, he has shown his zero awareness, concentration and lack of communication in the danger area and that can only put us in more problems in the coming weeks.

Then there’s Petr Cech – the man who John Terry famously said that he would save us 12 to 15 points in a season. The legendary Czech goalie has been a shade of the goalie we used to know. Yes, he still pops up with the good save from time to time, but in a world where the Neuers, De Geas and Oblaks are raking in consistent performances week in week out, it’s really sad to see how badly our goalie has regressed. It’s even more depressing when you remember that he has David Ospina as his deputy – another erratic goalie with his own penchant for errors. It was really painful watching him concede such a goal in his near post, but even at 1-1, I expected the Gunners to launch an onslaught and take the game by the scruff of its neck. What we got afterwards was more comical defending with the usually reliable Nacho Monreal caught out of position, allowing Matt Ritchie to blast the ball past the hapless Cech to win the contest.

The defeat showed the immense lack of quality in the squad besides the starting XI. These are more or less the same set of lads that fluffed their lines so terribly at Nottingham and it’s quite shameful when I think about the individual performances. In defense, we looked out of depth. Rob Holding was expecting a ‘senior’ player like Mustafi to lead the back line but such leadership was found wanting. I was in full support of giving Hector Bellerin a breather but Calum Chambers is no right back. He should channel his football education as a center back, which means that the club needs to invest in a new right back – someone to give Bellerin that kick up the arse because Matt Debuchy is gone and Carl Jenkinson isn’t good enough for a team like Arsenal. I would have expected Monreal to get some minutes off but the manager clearly doesn’t trust Sead Kolasinac enough.

Mohamed Elneny was a beast against CSKA but he had a very subdued performance alongside Granit Xhaka in the middle of the park. The youngster, Joe Willock, did the best he could but when you throw a lad into the deep end like we did, it would be somewhat unfair to expect fireworks from him, even though I would have preferred if he did better with that great chance Lacazette created for him. Alex Iwobi flattered to deceive again and proved why he can be nothing but a squad player at best. For a lad that has been exposed to so much football, you’d have expected him to show any signs of improvement but it was not to be as he continued to dally on the ball and offered no real threat from an attacking perspective. I’m pretty sure Lucas Perez or Joel Campbell would have offered a bit more this season from the flanks, especially with our second tier squad performing badly when they are expected to put on a shift. You could not doubt Perez’s goal to game ratio and Campbell was one lad that sure knew how to put on a shift when he was selected.

I was somewhat surprised with the Aubameyang to the left flank situation to accommodate Lacazette. It remains one of the things that baffles me about Wenger. You sign a center forward for a record fee that hit the ground running immediately then you stifle his progress in your bid to make a case for another forward still working his way to form. With Aubameyang cup-tied, I expect him to start every game as our center forward while Lacazette gets his chance in Europe, but as always, Wenger really loves trying out square pegs in round holes. Some would say he’s adept playing on the flanks but his best return for Dortmund, which is 141 goals in 212 games should I remind you, came when he was deployed as a center forward. He even showed great wing play to tee up a goal for Lacazette but as the game progressed, he was left isolated on the wing. Even when the manager brought on Danny Welbeck, Aubameyang still remained on the left wing.

I don’t understand how we have let things get this bad at the club.

I know the Europa League was a priority, but that was a terrible performance.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle: Poor Performance, Great Result

With Arsenal level on points with Leicester but edging the Foxes out on goal difference, the Gunners hosted Newcastle while the Foxes played high-flying Bournemouth at home.

The away side seemed to be the ones with the best chances created and Arsenal had Petr Cech to thank as the big goalie continued to make several saves from Giogiornio Wijnaldum. There were also close shaves from Chance Mbemba and Aleksandr Mitrovic. It’s not as if it was all about Newcastle, Arsenal had chances of their own with Olivier Giroud trying to get on the end of some good crosses but it took as long as 70+ minutes before the telling stat came up…Giroud showing great determination to win a header before Laurent Koscielny reacted the quickest to toe poke the ball home.

Late on, Mesut Ozil teed up Aaron Ramsey that made fools of two Newcastle defenders before firing his goal-bound shot wide. It also meant that Arsenal have only won two Premier League games without a goal or an assist from Mesut Ozil this season – both against Newcastle.

With Leicester dropping points against Bournemouth, no thanks to Riyad Mahrez missed penalty, Manchester City maintained their title chase with a grounded out victory against Watford, this victory over Newcastle has put the Gunners in the driving seat.

Sayonara