Goals from Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Mikel Arteta an eighth consecutive victory in an FA Cup match, as Arsenal laboured to a 2-0 extra time victory over a stubborn Newcastle United
The first 90 minutes were played to a noticeably poor quality, punctuated by flashes of brilliance, with Andy Carroll having the best chance of the lot as his 93rd minute effort forced Bernd Leno into an excellent double save.
Smith Rowe, who was sent off in the 94th minute only for the VAR to correctly overrule the referee’s decision, added the first in the 109th minute shooting across a despairing Martin Dubravka (or, as Danny Murphy calls him, Martin Dubrovnik).
Aubameyang added a second late on, his sixth goal in four cup matches, as Arsenal progressed from yet another 3rd round tie – that’s now 24 of the last 25 third round ties Arsenal have won, and it means Mikel Arteta has won four competitive games in a row for the first time this season.
The hosts and holders of the trophy made seven changes from their victory in the Midlands, but Martinelli’s injury in the warm up allowed Nelson to take his place. For their part, the visitors made a half dozen changes to their own lineup, with former gunner Isaac Hayden starting in the centre of the midfield.
Nelson and Pepe set the tone early on with tame efforts that forced the returning Dubravka into easy saves, but as the clock ticked towards the quarter hour mark there was little else of note.
Willock then had the best chance of the game to that point as Tierney’s cut back landed at his feet in a central position, but the youngster dawdled on the ball and by the time he was ready to take the second-touch shot, there were several defensive bodies in the way.
The visitors had the better of the opening of the second half after bringing on Ritchie at half time – Carroll with three half chances to break the deadlock but failed to beat Leno each time.
The introduction of Smith Rowe added a different element to Arsenal’s game, and Willock’s downward header forced a good save from Dubravka.
Efforts from Aubameyang and Saka went close but both hit their relatively speculative efforts over, but it was evident both sides were aiming to avoid the looming spectre of extra time.
A hectic second half injury time saw Newcastle almost win the game when Carroll forced a magnificent save from Leno, before Smith Rowe received a straight red card, eventually turned into a yellow card by VAR. But with no goals, an extra 30 minutes was required to determine who would make it through to Monday night’s draws.
Xhaka forced an excellent diving save with the first real chance of extra time – his dipping left footed effort from the edge of the box forcing a corner.
Yet another moment of controversy followed as Aubameyang was fouled inside the area, spotted by the BBC commentators (who later attempted to recant their original correct diagnosis to defend the mistake by VAR) only for the VAR check to ignore the incident. For Arsenal to have received one decision on VAR today was a rarity – it is unlikely to be repeated any time soon.
The deadlock was finally broken by the man given a reprieve by VAR – Smith Rowe putting a low ball across Dubravka and off the far post, after Lacazette worked hard to push a header out into his path. It was a moment of quality glimpsed far too fleetingly for the gunners, but one fully deserved based on the way the game had gone throughout extra time.
And the tie was wrapped up three minutes from time as Xhaka threaded a magnificent pass through to Tierney, who crossed for the club captain to tap in with his weaker left foot – a goal which the Gabon international thoroughly needed.
The holders progress to the next round, where they’ll be hoping to receive generous draws in the fourth and fifth round – drawn together for this occasion. Watch out for ball number 12 in the first of those draws.
Man of the match: Martin Dubravka. I don’t mind being charitable here and admitting this game wasn’t the highest of quality, but both goalkeepers made a number of excellent saves to keep their sides in the game. Penalties might have changed which goalkeeper won this accolade.
Arsenal: Leno, Cedric (Maitland-Niles 121′), Luiz, Mari, Tierney, Elneny, Willock (Xhaka 66′), Willian (Saka 66′), Pepe (Lacazatte 105′), Nelson (Smith Rowe 57′), Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Chambers, Nketiah
Newcastle: Dubravka, Krafth (Murphy 68′), Lascelles (Ritchie HT), Clark, Dummett, Hayden, Longstaff, Hendrick, Almiron (Yedlin 80′), Joelinton (Anderson 81′), Carroll (Gayle 105′)
Subs: Gillespie, Longstaff