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Emile Smith Rowe spares Arsenal’s blushes with FA Cup extra-time winner against Newcastle

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle (aet): Midfielder saw a red card overturned by VAR before providing the spark to send the holders into the fourth round

Vithushan Ehantharajah
Emirates Stadium
Saturday 09 January 2021 22:23 GMT
(Getty Images)

FA Cup holders Arsenal needed extra-time to see off Newcastle United, eventually securing a 2-0 victory that required them to dig deeper than they would have liked.

On a chilly afternoon that turned into a freezing night at the Emirates Stadium, it was Emile Smith Rowe who made the precious first breakthrough. But things could have been very different for the 21-year-old, who was shown a straight red card in the dying minutes of normal time for a challenge on Sean Longstaff. However, a reprieve was given by VAR, with referee Chris Kavanagh reversing his decision after consulting the pitchside monitor. Replays showed Smith Rowe took a bit more of the ball and a lot less of Longstaff’s shin than it first seemed.

The reprieve meant Smith Rowe was on hand to rifle a low half-volley off the far post at the start of the second period of extra time. The lead, deserved within the context of the 120 minutes, deflated the opposition before a tap-in from captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put the game beyond doubt.

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It caps off a stellar few weeks for Smith Rowe. Since coming into the starting XI for the win over Chelsea, he has played a key part in Arsenal's three successive league wins. The only thing that was missing was the bonus of a goal. To grab what ultimately was the winner, along with the man of the match award, will do just fine.

Smith Rowe’s red card was overturned in normal time (Getty Images)

Both managers rang the changes ahead of midweek Premier League action. Usually, that means an influx of youngsters into the starting XI too rest older legs. But, for Arsenal, the kids have been doing the brunt of the recent best work. Thus, Mikel Arteta’s seven changes meant Smith Rowe and Bukayo Sakas started on the bench, though both would make it on the pitch midway through the second-half as their more seasoned and under-utilised teammates struggled to get the job done. Cedric Soares and Willian were given starts, with David Luiz making his first appearance the 2-1 away to Everton on 19 December, Arsenal’s last defeat.

Arteta was forced into one final change 30 minutes before kick-off when Gabriel Martinelli turned his right ankle in the warm-ups. Reiss Nelson took his place in the XI and the early word is that the Brazilian forward, who only just returned to the first-team action three weeks ago, may have done serious damage.

Steve Bruce, who took Newcastle to the quarter-finals last season, also shuffled his deck having woken up on Saturday with his hand forced. Both Callum Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey were withdrawn from action despite flying down with the squad on Friday. The club did not disclose whether the issue was Covid-19 related but were hopeful for their involvement with Tuesday’s must-win game with bottom-of-the-league Sheffield United.

The result was a front three led by Andy Carroll, who produced a defiant, even at times classy performance, flanked by Miguel Almiron and Joelinton,  along with a midfield three devoid of some necessary craft. Whatever joy came in the air to Carroll, and from the odd misstep from the hosts. But for the most part, those in black and white did the majority of their work in their own half.

Arsenal flirted and teased at a breakthrough with the kind of tentativeness in front of goal that afflicted their opening months of the season. This despite registering two shots on goal in the opening two minutes. Amid countless nearly moments that fell short of being classified as “chances” outright, Aubameyang should have given The Gunners a first-half lead.

There was no real craft when it came to creating the opportunity as Luiz raked a free-kick from the right-back position over the Newcastle defence to spring the striker through. A shot across goal inside the box was headed for the corner until Martin Dubravka, making his first start of the season, stuck out a firm right hand to keep him out.

Smith Rowe celebrates scoring  (Getty Images)

Still level at the break, Newcastle emerged for the second-half in punchier mood, and no one summed that up more than Carroll. Suddenly, his leaden feet and rusty gait were swifter and smoother. Coupled with the aerial presence that allowed the visitors to ease the pressure on their backline as directly as possible, it led to a noticeable rise in confidence. 

Carroll, though, was unable to put the finishing touches on their good work. A volley on the half-turn from the left-hand point of the box looked like it might have burst the netting had it not taken a deflection towards Bernd Leno. But the real kicker came on 56 minutes when Jeff Hendrick’s scuffed volley fell perfectly to him at the back post. Having put his foot through the ball whenever he had the merest hint of goal, he opted for a side-foot from seven yards out that skidded the wrong side of the far post.

It snapped Arsenal out of their hazy start to the second period. Aubameyang was set free for a second time on the hour, by Elneny on this occasion, only for an attempted dink over the keeper to dribble across the six-yard box. Not long after, Joe Willock had a header at the far post which was clawed out by Dubravka.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rounded off the victory (Getty Images)

In the three minutes of added time, as extra-time loomed, the match got a sudden rush of blood. A Newcastle counter led by Jacob Murphy gave 18-year old debutant Elliot Anderson a chance for a winner. Though his shot was blocked, Carroll got an effort on goal that was kept out brilliantly by Leno, who then tapped the ball away from the forward as he threatened to pull the trigger again on his own rebounded shot. The German then threw out quickly to launch a late Arsenal counter, but a miscontrol from Smith Rowe led to the lunge on Longstaff that originally saw him given his marching orders. 

That adrenaline carried into extra-time. A thumping volley from second-half substitute Granit Xhaka was tipped over by Dubravka as Arsenal’s superior fitness came to the fore. And at the start of the second half, they finally had something to show for their efforts. 

Smith Rowe pounced on a loose ball in the Newcastle backline, laying to Saka who chipped to Alexandre Lacazette, on for the second period of extra-time. The Frenchman's flicked header found Smith Rowe continuing his run and the youngster kept his composure to fire low, in off the post, to bring Arsenal sweet relief.

Three minutes before the end, a one-two between Kieran Tierney and Xhaka set the Scottish full-back away, and his simple square ball was tapped ion by Aubameyang to finally draw a line under this fixture for both sides. Newcastle, for all their endeavour, were out on the feet. Arsenal, with a keen eye on reacquainting themselves with this trophy, march on. 

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