Arsenal (0) 2 Newcastle United (0) 0 (after extra time)
FA Cup Third Round
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 9th January 2021. Kick-off time: 5.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, David Luiz, Pablo Marí, Kieran Tierney; Mohamed Elneny, Joe Willock; Nicolas Pépé, Willian Borges da Silva, Reiss Nelson; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Rúnarsson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith-Rowe, Granit Xhaka
Scorers: Emile Smith-Rowe (109 minutes), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (117 minutes)
Yellow Cards: Cédric Soares, Emile Smith-Rowe
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 61%
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Assistant Referees: Dan Cook, Sian Massey-Ellis
Fourth Official: Gavin Ward
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Andre Marriner; AVAR Neil Davies
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
And so, it’s that time again. Today is the third round of the magical FA Cup, and on this occasion, it is a wee bit different for us, as we are, of course, the current holders of the old tin pot (as our cup-winning captain Joe Mercer used to refer to it). Our adversaries at the Emirates this afternoon are Newcastle United, a club whom we have played against in the final tie for the grand old trophy three times at Wembley Stadium, in 1932, 1952 and 1998, winning just once, in our second league and cup double season of twenty-three years ago of course. Controversy appears to follow with our contests with the Magpies; who can forget the “ball-over-the-line” final of 1932 and twenty years later, the courageous last stand of ten-man Arsenal in those long-forgotten pre-substitution days? But that was then, and this is now, and all we can hope for is that our winning run in the Premiership transfers to this match in the unpredictable FA Cup this afternoon. Let’s go!
Sadly, Gabriel Martinelli injured himself in the pre-match warm-up, so young Reiss Nelson stepped up to the plate in his place; almost immediately he got into the action, firing a shot at the visitors’ goal within a minute of the starting whistle. We started in a confident manner, with several good attempts on the Magpies’ goal, all of which came to nothing, sadly. The match started to become one of major challenges in midfield, with neither side breaking out to create a scoring chance; however, having said that, there were opportunities that became available as the tedium started to break down after about twenty minutes. Reiss Nelson and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both had gilt-edged chances to score that were hacked away by the visitors’ defenders, whilst Andy Carroll and Miguel Almirón were creating openings to grab the first goal by hustling and bustling their way through the Arsenal defence. We managed to gain control of the match by the scruff of the neck, and in doing so, our forwards were finding advantageous space through the five-man-at-the-back system that Newcastle were playing throughout the half, mainly by pushing balls over the top of the defensive wall for our men to run on to. However, Newcastle United held firm, and we went into the break honours even.
The second half started in earnest with the visitors taking the match to us, and it has to be said that theywere extremely unlucky not to score, when Andy Carroll had a couple of chances that, on another day, may well have found the back of the net. Newcastle United pinned us back into our own half for the first ten mintues or so of the new half, but it all seemed to change when Emile Smith-Rowe replaced Reiss Nelson after fifty-six minutes. Suddenly, it was our turn to be in the ascendancy, and we had some excellent chances to score, the best of them coming from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when having beat the defender, he flicked the ball past the goalkeeper, and as it happened, the post as well. Mikel Arteta made a double substitution out of sheer frustration when Bukayo Saka and Granit Xhaka replaced Joe Willock and Willian after sixty-eight minutes. The new pairs of legs certainly changed things up front for us, as suddenly our passing became sharper, our work rate was quicker, and our opportunities to score became frequent. Bukayo Saka had a brilliant shot on the Newcastle goal that went over the bar, and it appeared to be that the more we tried to score, the harder it became to do so. Kieran Tierney crossed a fabulous ball for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to head wide, and both sets of defenders were just hoofing the ball away as tiredness was the king now. In injury time, David Luiz was unlucky not to score with a superb header, then seconds later, Elliott Anderson (and then Andy Carroll) almost won the match for the visitors, but fortunately Bernd Leno saved the day. There was more drama when referee Chris Kavanagh reached for the red card when Emile Smith-Rowe clipped Sean Longstaff (who theatrically screamed for effect), but thankfully, it was swapped for a yellow card after he consulted the pitchside monitor. And so extra time became a reality.
After a particularly poor game, both sets of players started the period of extra time with some trepidation. As is usual with extra time situations, both teams were looking for mistakes through tiredness, and sure enough, after two minutes, Granit Xhaka hit a beautiful ball from outside the visitors’ box that was acrobatically pushed over the bar by the goalkeeper. David Luiz did well in clearing the ball after some pressure by the visitors, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was denied a penalty a few minutes later when he went down in the opponents’ box after a messy tackle. Towards the end of the first half of extra time, we certainly had the better chances, but we still were unable to break down the Newcastle defence. Alexandre Lacazette replaced a tiring Nicolas Pépé at the beginning of the second period, and the entrance of our number nine certainly rejuvenated the boys. And finally, three minutes into the second half of injury time, Emile Smith Rowe’s superb right footed shot went from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner of the net, ably assisted by Alexandre Lacazette with a headed pass, after a clever lob by Bukayo Saka. The goal certainly put a spring in our step, so much so, that three minutes later, a Kieran Tierney cross from the left, near the byline found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose left-footed shot from point-blank range found the centre of the goal, to give us our second and final goal of the night. Although there was one or two further chances for both sides, the match was essemtially over and our path to the fourth round was assured.
Well, we got there in the end, and we certainly made hard work of it at times. After the cavalier manner that they disposed of West Bromwich Albion in the rain at The Hawthorns last week, we all expected more of the same, but boy, were we disappointed. The good thing about the performance tonight, was that they were dogged, determined and solid; some performances were truly exemplary. Emile Smith-Rowe, David Luiz, Bukayo Saka, and of course, the incredible Kieran Tierney. If there is a better left-back in Europe playing top professional football at his tender age, I have yet to see it. A real gem. Overall, it was heavy weather, but we are in the fourth round draw on Monday, and for that we should be eternally grateful.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Crystal Palace at the Emirates on Thursday, 14th January at 8.00pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.