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Following a recent turnaround of performances and results — inspired primarily by Hale End graduates — in the league to drag Arsenal up into a less catastrophic position on the table, last Thursday, Mikel Arteta’s team came up against what has been their most troublesome nemesis this season: a low block of dogged defenders at the Emirates. Though that match against Crystal Palace wasn’t entirely without positives – the clean sheet, a number of attempts on goal that with a bit more composure and precision could have earned us a victory – the overall impression was one of lacking enough creativity or nous to keep our newfound momentum going for any considerable stretch of games. 

Hence there was a well-justified trepidation in the Goonerverse going into our 19th match of this maddeningly (or thrillingly, depending on whom you are asking) erratic league season. Our league position was no longer darkened by the shadows of the relegation zone, but still a depressing 11th. However, the numerical gap in points with the European contender positions being tantalizingly close, the more optimistic among us could be forgiven for harboring a glimmer of hope that with the right set of results, come end of season we can be relatively excited about where we stand. 

Arsenal welcomed an out-of-form and beleaguered Newcastle United side against such a chiaroscuro backdrop of emotions. Would we further solidify our mid-table mediocrity which for much of the season seemed to have been our deserved lot? Or would we build upon the flashes of pedigree shown in the last few weeks to remind everyone, but most of all ourselves, that the Arsenal are on their way back to where they belong?         

The team selection had little surprise except maybe for Cedric starting ahead of Bellerin whose attacking display against Palace was rather mediocre. We welcomed back Thomas Partey who – despite playing only a few matches in the injury interrupted start to his Arsenal career – had already shown that he is head and shoulders above the rest of our central midfielders. David Luiz kept his place even though his younger Brazilian counterpart – and from this reviewer’s perspective, a more imposing and effective presence in defense – Gabriel, had been declared fully fit. The magnificent maverick Scot too had recovered fully from his niggles and reclaimed his rightful place on the left side of the pitch. 

A well-balanced 4-2-3-1 formation: 

Leno

Cedric – Holding – Luiz – Tierney 

Partey –  Xhaka

Saka –  ESR – Aubameyang 

Lacazette 

Newcastle started with purpose as Almiron floated a cross in the first minute, but it was merely catching practice for Leno. Cedric and Saka were involved in these early minutes down the right, looking for an opening to get outside the Newcastle defense who were compact down the middle. 

Arsenal’s first meaningful chance came in the 8th minute when Aubameyang found himself on the ball with empty space in front of him. He drove purposefully into the box, the defender kept him away from an attempt with his right foot, and an off-balance Auba shot at the keeper with his left. 

In the 14th minute Saka earned Arsenal a free-kick following a quick counter-attacking move by Emile and Bukayo. Cedric sent in a powerful and accurate delivery from the free-kick with the right amount of dip in it, Luiz headed wide. 

A minute later, following a neat interchange between Saka and ESR the Newcastle goalkeeper did well to touch a perfect pass across the goalmouth from Saka meant for Aubameyang. The touch diverted the ball just enough and a slightly off-balance Auba managed to hit the post, ignoring the invitation of an empty net.

In the 21st minute Arsenal put together a good-looking move with Partey in the middle of it. He had an albeit difficult, chance to end the move gloriously as Saka set him up for a clean strike at goal from outside the box. Partey’s shot flew over. It would have been a great first goal for our Ghanaian midfielder whose dominating presence and control over the match grew throughout the rest of the game. 

Newcastle, despite a somewhat positive looking set-up, weren’t offering anything attacking wise. Just to break the monotony of Arsenal possession the speedy Almiron combined with Andy Carroll (the commentators never tired of reminding us of all his past exploits and how dangerous he could be etc., etc.) but at the end of the move he shot over the bar. 

Even though the overall tempo of the game was ordinary, it was evident Arsenal had prepared well to mix a few tactical variations in attack. This time there was no high press, recognizing that Newcastle wouldn’t be playing out from the back, sometimes willingly conceding possession as a kind of enticement to get Newcastle out of low blocking defensive shape then to hit on the counter, especially down the flanks. Aubameyang shot over the crossbar from one such counter-attack involving Partey and ESR. Even though he didn’t appear to have fully regained his confidence as his rare goalscoring drought continued, Aubameyang was noticeably more involved in the penalty box compared to his outings in the last couple of months. 

In the 37th minute, Tierney sent in a cross from his right foot. His magnificent right foot curler against West Bromwich Albion had already shown us that he is not without abilities on his weaker foot as well. 

In the 40th minute, Auba attempted a very clever finish with the toes through a small slit of an opening between two defenders, but the ball rolled out. 

A few minutes later his shot from the left side of the penalty box was almost deflected into Newcastle’s goal but for a good save by their keeper. From the resulting corner Saka’s delivery was met by Luiz who despite finding himself with only the keeper to beat got the angle of his header wrong. That was the last action before the interval. Given how poor Newcastle were for much of the first half, going into the break without scoring a goal was a little frustrating. Xhaka, and increasingly so Partey, completely dominated the midfield. And ESR and Saka combined well with each other with ESR especially taking up intelligent positions and trying to create triangles. But the movements – on and off the ball – lacked pace and incision.  

The second half started with Arsenal raising the tempo of passing and movement. In the 47th minute Lacazette manufactured an excellent shot for himself through a melee of defenders, but the goalkeeper made an equally impressive save. 

In the 50th minute the deadlock was finally broken. From a Newcastle move, Lacazette – always willing and able to help out his defense – cleared the ball to Partey. Partey picked a fabulous pass to find Aubameyang down the left flank. Auba drove into the box, anticipated well that the defenders would block his right side, switched the ball to the left and finished wonderfully into the roof of the net. 

Arsenal 1 (Aubameyang 50’) – Newcastle 0

The quality of the passing and inventiveness in moving the ball vertically as well as by switching flanks improved after the goal. Partey’s reassuring presence – there is a certain charismatic simplicity to his game that helps his teammates to be more imaginative and less burdened with fear – contributed towards that. 

In the 60th minute ESR, hugging the left touchline, received a pass from Auba. He strode forward past defenders in the penalty box, went towards the byline and provided a perfectly weighted cutback for his mate Saka to slot in nonchalantly. 

Arsenal 2 (Aubameyang 50’, Saka 60’) – Newcastle 0 

By his lofty standards Tierney was relatively quiet from an attacking perspective. It is possible he was playing well within himself, per instruction, to ensure his fitness given the games coming ahead. He was still a noticeable presence on the left on both sides of the ground. 

On the right flank Cedric was a revelation. He played by far his best match in Arsenal colors. Defensively he didn’t have too much to do – someone like Saint-Maximin, if fit, might have given him and Rob a bit more trouble – but on the attacking third he combined excellently with both ESR and Saka, and supported Partey well on the right side of the midfield. In the 66th minute Cedric and Saka combined superbly and following a clever flick by Cedric, Saka created enough space for himself to send in a sumptuous cross that Laca headed decisively only for the goalkeeper to make an excellent save. 

Elneny replaced Partey in the 67th minute. If there were supporters in the stadium Thomas would have left to the sound of a standing ovation. 

Elneny slotted in well in the midfield and kept up the tempo of the passing. The actions stayed mostly in the Newcastle half with a third goal now looking more than a distinct possibility. And it duly arrived in the 77th minute. 

Saka and Cedric combined well again on the right side. Cedric made an excellent run from Saka’s pass, cut inside, and even though the ball bobbled up kept enough of a control to provide a precise and powerful cut-back that Aubameyang simply guided into the goal. 

Arsenal 2 (Aubameyang 50’, Saka 60’, Aubameyang 77’) – Newcastle 0 

This was our captain’s 400th match in European top tier football, and his exuberant celebration of his goals numbered 205 and 206 should now set up a return to form following a rare lean patch. His Arsenal numbers are eye-catchingly extraordinary: 78 goals and 16 assists in 129 matches. And long may that efficiency continue. 

Willian was brought in for Aubameyang around the 80th minute. And Gabriel Martinelli – back in the squad after missing couple of matches due to injury – replaced Emile in the 81st minute. There were a few more pleasing moves from one of which Laca earned a freekick in a promising situation. Willian – who in all his career has been a genuine expert in set-pieces – with full concentration hit the free-kick straight at the wall. Let us hope that he finds his own unquestionable qualities sometimes soon and proves all the doubters (including this reviewer) wrong. 

A fourth goal would have been nice but there weren’t many more opportunities created. One noticeable event as the match petered out was a gratuitous elbow right on the face of young Martinelli, and the perpetrator was not even cautioned. 

A promising performance especially in the second half, a convincing 3-0 victory, the return of Thomas Partey, a return of our captain to his goalscoring habits, one more clean sheet and the continued excellence of two academy graduates. Arteta and the team should start to feel more confident and optimistic about the rest of the season. 

One minor statistic from today’s match: ESR’s assist to Saka meant that they are the first English pair to combine for three goals in premier league before either player has turned 21. Already known for his technical abilities on the ball, ESR’s performances have been remarkable in their maturity too. Maturity in positional awareness, in defensive discipline when needed, in tireless attempts at creating openings and driving the team forward. In his five appearances since the Chelsea match, he has created 10 goalscoring opportunities in the league. Add that to his deadlock-breaking finish in the FA Cup. He was my man of the match. 

A sign of what’s to come? (David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Being from America, my youthful exposure to things Newcastle was limited to two things: coals, and brown ale.

Now, the former was always presented by my Scottish grandmother in the form of “like coals to Newcastle”, and for years I couldn’t figure out what the heck it meant (given her outspokenness what she meant was never in doubt!). Finally I pulled out our trusty World Book encyclopedia and found out about coal’s relationship to Newcastle. As for the latter, Newcastle Brown Ale was my tipple of choice for my college years; where most were drinking Heineken or a small variety of “light beers” I found the brown stuff available in quantities of lovely clear bottles.

I admit that’s poor knowledge, and a rather mundane opening to what will be a short preview of Arsenal’s match with Newcastle’s Magpies on Monday evening. They arrive at the Grove after a loss to bottom dwellers Sheffield United last Tuesday, and are on a run of form inverted from ours, with four losses and a draw in their last five games. Over the past decade or so we’ve pretty much had their number, losing twice and drawing twice in 18 Premier League games over that span.

Under Steve Bruce they’ve not been a squad that wins much, not quite one in three. “Brucey” has not had the production from his team he could have imagined, having seen them score only once in those last five games, with Callum Wilson and Joelinton flattering to deceive. It’s unsurprising, though: Newcastle have played 5-4-1 at the back over recent months, with infrequent success at either end of the pitch. Reports are that Bruce might be considering a back 4, so they might line up in more of a 4-4-1-1, with either Joelinton or Saint-Maximin in support of Wilson.

So all the portents are favorable. Our setback against Palace broke our 4-game winning streak, but we’re still undefeated in five on the strength of a quartet of clean sheets. We are without Marí (calf), but Gabigol is available for Mikel Arteta again to choose after his ankle scare; KT3 will be assessed on Monday ahead of the match. While we missed his creativity down the left on Thursday, I’d prefer to rest him again if possible so he heals properly.

I expect to see the following team, largely dissimilar from the one that put Newcastle to the sword in the FA Cup tie less than a fortnight ago. I don’t see how we can get around playing Saka, ESR, and Gabi for this one, and expect Partey to pair with Mo’Neny ahead of the defense.

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Maitland-Niles

Elneny – Partey

Saka – Smith Rowe – Gabigol

Aubameyang

The Holic Pound

As with the Palace game, this is a game we must (and should) win. I think we can manage another 2-0 win against these Magpies, with Gabigol and Auba getting on the scoresheet. That’s available at about 6/1. If you think our defense will give up its scoreless streak you can get 12/1 on a 3-1 Arsenal victory. And if you really think we’re going to be wearing our scoring boots on what’s to be a chilly, wet London evening, 4-0 is available at 18s.

COYG!

Diver down (Photo by Alastair Grant / POOL / AFP)

With a chance to make it four Premier League wins on the bounce Mikel Arteta rang the changes from the Cup team that played last weekend: Bellerin came back into the team after he was rested against Newcastle, and the newly re-signed Holding replaced Pablo Marí in central defence where he was partnered by Luiz.  Maitland-Niles tried to fill the boots of Tierney at left-back due to the Scot’s “muscle soreness”.  Xhaka came in for Elneny and was paired with Ceballos who replaced Willock in midfield.  Saka started on the right in place of Willian, and Smith Rowe resumed his Premier League starting role after scoring the game winner as a substitute at the weekend. Lacazette returned at centre forward as Pepe sat back down on the substitutes’ bench where he has watched many games this season. We seemed to be playing a 4-2-3-1 formation like this:

Leno

Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Maitland-Niles

Ceballos, Xhaka

Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang

Lacazette

Arsenal dominated possession in the opening stages, with Ceballos, Xhaka and Smith Rowe making nice contributions in midfield.  After four minutes Smith Rowe got into position on the right but centered too close to the keeper.  AMN sent in a poor cross from the left when he was in position to do better. Hector gave one away near the center circle but Lacazette made a sliding tackle to recover.  Palace countered and Townsend sent a speculative shot over the bar, and on 14 minutes Palace got a free kick near the Arsenal area but Eze shot over.

Arsenal applied pressure and Bellerin’s cross was deflected for a corner.  Saka’s effort was deflected to Auba who put in a good long distance shot that was parried by Guiata who flapped a second time before gathering.  Saka put in a long-range left foot shot right at the keeper.  On 22 minutes a good sliding tackle by Xhaka denied Zaha an excellent chance to score after he danced into the area on the left side. McArthur disposessed AMN after Arsenal had strung together a number of tidy passes, leading to Benteke getting into position on the left to shoot past Holding but not past Leno.  Bellerin crossed for Auba in a dangerous position, but his header was cleared.  Benteke skied a close-range chance after a center from the left as the half-hour loomed.  Xhaka fed Auba on the left after exchanging passes but it was sent out for a corner.  Saka reached Luiz on the far post but he headed straight at the keeper.  Many of our attacks were coming from the right which is unusual but not surprising considering that Tierney, our best attacking option, was not available.

On 35 minutes Kouyate felled Saka near the corner flag with a knee to the back of the thigh.  Saka sent the free kick into a dangerous area but Tomkins headed it out for a throw.  Xhaka stepped on Zaha’s foot near the corner of the area, conceding a free kick that was sent in right over Holding’s head to Tomkins who headed it onto the bar and the loose ball was gratefully cleared.  Palace attacked from the left and sent in an accurate cross for Benteke who headed the ball toward the top right corner but Leno made a good save.  With the clock at 42:22 my TV froze for three minutes but luckily no goals were scored in that time.  The halftime whistle came with the score 0-0 but Arsenal had certainly tailed off in the later stages of the half.

The second half began with no substitutes made.  Bellerin’s follow-up shot, after the Palace keeper had parried away from Auba, skimmed past Guaita’s right hand post.  Ceballos’ ball for Saka was sent out for a corner that was taken by Saka but Holding headed weakly and wide.  Luiz made a gallant run to the left and sent in a cross that was cleared, as did Saka from the right just after.  Xhaka lost the ball in midfield, Ceballos failed on a tackle, and Benteke had another half-chance that Arsenal’s defence managed to turn away.  Arsenal worked a good chance for Lacazette who shot wide, but the flag was up anyway apparently as AMN had drifted offside.

As the cameras got an extended closeup of Zaha’s neck tattoo, Arsenal fans got a thrill as the next shot was of Partey warming up on the touchline. Just as the hour mark had passed Maitland-Nilees made a nice move to create a shooting chance but his effort was straight at the keeper.  Arteta then replaced AMN with an extra attacker, Nicolas Pepe.  Xhaka conceded an interception on a dangerous ball but made a good recovery at the other end, before Luiz and Zaha had a midfield collision that led to the referee carding Zaha when it appeared Luiz may have deserved it more.  Xhaka did well to clear a cross by Zaha with Benteke waiting at the far post before Partey replaced Ceballos in the Arsenal midfield on 69 minutes.  Benteke got into position for a header from a right-wing cross that deflected into Leno’s grateful arms.  Smith Rowe crossed from the right but his effort was deflected for a corner.  Saka sent it in for Holding who made a better effort this time but sent it wide to the left.

Palace sent Ayew on for Benteke in search of the goal to grab the three points, and Arsenal sent on Nketiah in place of Lacazette.  Saka’s well measured ball helped Smith Rowe win a corner on the left but in the next sequence the best Arsenal could do was a blocked shot by ESR.  As Palace broke Zaha appeared to be getting into the clear but Holding did well to keep him off balance.  Nketiah won a free kick near the Arsenal area giving Saka the chance to send in another left footer but it was parried by Guaita and Pepe’s follow up went well over the bar.  In stoppage time Partey won a free kick in midfield leading to another chance for Saka to send in a free kick but it was deflected.  Palace broke and Ayew had a chance to shoot but Bellerin put him off as time ran out.

Full Time – Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0

A disjointed and drab game to be honest.  We really missed the attacking threat of Tierney, but even though Arsenal defended decently they never came close to scoring.  Clutching at straws, it’s a positive I suppose that we didn’t make a mistake near the end, but disappointing that we couldn’t muster a more coherent scoring threat against a club like Palace.  As Tierney faces an MRI scan, it certainly feels like Arsenal could use some refreshment at the moment.

Never a truer word Mikel!

This week the recently resurgent Reds will host Crystal Palace in a game that provides an opportunity for us to win four premier matches in a row for the first time since October 2018. Not a great statistic that and it actually quite shocked me when I read it, though I don’t know why as our infuriating inconsistency seems to have been our one constant. However, regardless of all the guff about every team in the Premier League being competitive etc. etc., this is The Arsenal we are talking about and not to have won four in a row in the league for more than two years is a stat that I would very much like consigned to the dustbin.

As we are on statistics I would also say we haven’t won in our last four league games against Palace either, nor have we won after any of the three Goonerholics Forever previews I have written in the PL this season. How the players can heartlessly heap humiliation on a lifelong supporter such as myself is beyond me, though that being said the actual point of these cautionary tales is to remind us of the need for feet to be kept firmly on the ground. Recent history is not on our side for this game. We may even need those mugs, masks and memorabilia that several of you have been claiming (without credible evidence I might topically add at this point) are responsible for the welcome upturn in our fortunes. For upturn they have, and as we reach mid January we have returned to mid-table, and still have two cups to chase. Mikel has already put the next steps very clearly, 

“We need to get our home form established, we’ve had some issues there and now it’s time to get some wins. We’ve got two at home right now (Palace and Newcastle) that are going to be key for the future of our season in the Premier League……”  

I can but agree, win these to take us to the halfway point in the league season in good heart and then think about challenging for a top four place. If, and it is still a big if, we can mount a credible challenge in the second half of this season it would certainly represent an impressive turnaround led by a manager still in the early days of what we all hope will be a long and distinguished career as manger of The Arsenal. It is often in adversity that we learn the most about who we are and what is important. From that perspective October and November were certainly generous in providing lessons. Let’s just hope they’ve been learned. 

Other cheering news this week has come in the form of Rob Holding signing a new contract – a demonstration to any player at the club that through effort and performance you can change Mikel’s mind – and the news that young Gabi’s injury is not as bad as feared. Martinelli will not I believe be available for selection for the Palace game but it is a far better outcome than initially expected and it is a welcome change to see one of our players get a break of the right sort. The best of luck to him of course, but it is time now to turn our thoughts to those who are available. 

The Men Who Matter

Selecting the side is I think, barring late injuries, a far easier task than the last FA Cup game against Newcastle. So, without further ado I present to you………..

   Leno

Bellerin Holding Gabriel Tierney

Xhaka Ceballos

Saka Smith-Rowe Aubameyang

Lacazette

With the exception of Gabriel for Mari it is the same side that demolished West Brom. Mari has done nothing wrong but Gabriel was one of our few successes before his recent enforced absence, plus of course it won’t cost us 900k to play him. I jest of course because regardless of that contract situation with Flamenco* (we pay an additional 900K each time he completes 10 games up to a maximum of 80 games and so actually I assume we will have to pay next time he plays unless there is a time limit aspect to the contract), I would still play Gabriel as I think his slightly better mobility will be more useful against this Palace attack. 

*I should add I have no idea whether this press report is accurate, seems a bit pricey to me for an unknown defender but what do I know

The last time we beat Palace was a 4-1 thrashing in January 2018. Three long years, three draws and a defeat later it is past time to do it again. Only three of the starting XI from that day are likely to start – Hector, Xhaka and Laca who scored our fourth in the 22nd minute from an Ozil assist after goals from Nacho and Kos had given us a three goal lead. As well as the much-missed (by me) Nacho, Kos, Ozil and the inimitable Jack, our side that day featured a central midfield duo of Xhaka and Elneny. Make of that what you will. Three years later it is quite possible they may play again – and to be fair may suit this game against a scrappy Palace midfield. Oh sorry everyone. Typo! A crappy Palace midfield I meant to say! Anyway, rather than dwell on our already exhaustively discussed problems in CM let’s move swiftly to one of the solutions – I believe we will welcome Thomas back to the squad for this game if not the starting XI. Will he start though? MA took the risk against the marshdwellers and it backfired. Once bitten, Mikel? To be honest I would start him though I know many would think that reckless. As you will see from my XI above I don’t think Mikel will. Either way, I certainly look forward to his return, whether it’s tomorrow or in the next couple of games. 

I look forward even more to seeing our front four continue their recent good form and hope that we are about to see Auba return to his normal self.  Fingers crossed that smile is back and we will be team that has got 10 in the last 4 games and not the one that got 7 in 12 in the dark days of late autumn and early winter. 

The Opposition

Crystal Palace, known to their fans as The Eagles due to Zaha’s spectacular swoops to the ground in each and every bloody game, are currently 13th. It has been a standard season for them so far, a couple of good wins and a couple of whackings, leavened with several draws to see them looking unlikely to go down. Palace are managed by Roy Hodgson, who has done well enough for them, though I would add in all seriousness that when you consider Roy is in his seventies, I really wonder if it is good idea for him to continue attending games given the rising numbers of positive tests. Perhaps I am overthinking it but anyway I hope he will be fine. As for their players, well, Ayew has scored in each of our last two games against Palace, which is just annoying really as he isn’t very good. They also have a skillful young player called Eze who, if he is not banned for a recent quarantine breach, will bear watching but other than that they will feed everything through to Zaha as usual. It is not a mystery and hopefully our defence will be on our toes and not his. Although I have nothing against Palace their essential ‘meh’-ness defeats further analysis I’m afraid, so we will have to leave it there. In summary, I don’t much care which starting XI they put out as they are mediocre and the only question is whether we can rise above it. 

The Holic Pound

The last time we kept a clean sheet against Palace was January 2017, a fairly routine 2-0 win that in truth I have already forgotten (though a quick check tells me that, to my amusement, Xhaka and Elneny started that day too). The same 2-0 would suit me fine this time round though the odds are only a fraction over a skinny 7/1. A more adventurous bet on a repeat of the 4-1 win from January 2018 is available at 30/1 and looks fair value to me. 

That about wraps it up folks, thanks for having me as always and I hope we can all enjoy a free-flowing display resulting in the following brief post match TV interview……….

Sky Drone: well Roy, your team didn’t play badly but in the end that was quite a beating. Your thoughts on the game?

Roy Hodgson: Yes, drone, it was that but hardly surprising as after all they are the Arsenal and they are the Best.


Stuart MacFarlane
 / Contributor

Drama is part and parcel of the FA Cup and was very much present in a pretty mundane tie tonight. Emile Smith Rowe was sent off and then reprieved and then perhaps inevitably scored the decisive goal as the holders progressed through to the fourth round on a cold North London night.

If you were looking for pre-match omens the sight of Gabriel Martinelli collapsing to the turf in the warm-up was disturbing with potentially long-term implications for Arsenal. 

Arteta went with 4-2-3-1 with Leno retained in goal, Tierney retained at left-back and Willian and Pepe returning with Willock taking over the ESR role – or would Willian perhaps play further forwards? Early indications were that he would and he did but to no positive effect whatsoever. Reiss Nelson took over Martinelli’s place.

In the first minute Nelson cut in from the left but hit a tame shot at Dubravka. Then Pepe tested the keeper from the right. Willock was playing deeper in an unfamiliar role. On five minutes Pepe was brought down outside the area about thirty yards out. Willian hit a poor low shot which scarcely got off the ground. 

On eight minutes Nelson was scythed down by Lascelles who earned a deserved yellow. Just after, Pepe set up Nelson but he failed to control the ball when in a great position. Twelve minutes in Tierney got in behind the Newcastle defence but was ruled offside. Pepe was conspicuous both chasing back and looking to inject some flair in attack. Just as I wrote that he sloppily miscontrolled in a good position! 

Some nice looking attacking play precipitated by great control in mid-air by Pepe came to naught. Newcastle seemed content to sit deep but Arsenal understandably lacked  the swagger of recent games with no Saka, ESR or Martinelli. Aubameyang as has so often been the case this season was starved of action in the first quarter. But he found himself in space after a great ball from Luiz. His shot was saved by Dubravka. The rebound fell to Willian who skied pathetically. No improvement yet from the disappointing Brazilian. Andy Carroll was then booked for elbowing Willock to no- one’s  great surprise. 

Great play by Tierney on 27 set up Nelson but he failed to control crisply. The Scotsman is a huge asset at both ends of the field. 

Pepe was played in after a neat combination with Aubameyang but he was a little greedy and Hayden tackled him superbly. From the corner Carroll nearly embarrassed Dubravka with an unnecessary clearing header. Tierney was the only threat on the left as Nelson and Willian failed to make any impact. Tierney floated over another excellent cross which Newcastle knocked out for a corner. Carroll then cleared a dangerous cross from Willian for a corner. Arsenal were applying a decent grip without looking really dangerous. 

Cedric was yellow carded on the cusp of half-time conceding a potentially dangerous free-kick but Leno grabbed it as the half-time whistle went.

Half-time Arsenal 0 Newcastle 0 

The first half performance was eerily reminiscent of Arsenal pre-Chelsea. 

Tierney had been notably better than most even in that period but he skied a chance  way over on the restart. Willock conceded a free-kick which culminated in a Carroll header going wide. Then Mari cleared well under pressure from a left-wing cross. 

Our first chance on the restart fell to Pepe who from a central position hit a desultory shot wide. How long would Arteta wait to take out the non-performers? Carroll then hit a flying volley which tested Leno. Thus far Newcastle were the better side in this half.

Those who see Willock and Nelson as prospects for the future were seeing scant evidence of that so far. Nelson was hooked for Smith-Rowe on 56 just after Carroll missed a sitter which was not offside despite the linesman’s flag. A narrow escape.

Aubameyang then missed a good chance set up by Elneny with a rather casual flick. A promising move broke down when Willian failed to control a simple pass from Tierney. Could he play any worse? And could he continue to stay on? 

At last we produced some quality on 64 when an early Pepe cross saw Dubravka at full stretch to save from Willock.

On 65 we decided to bring on Saka and Xhaka for Willian and Willock. Neither substituted player could possibly complain. One sensed Newcastle were increasingly fancying their chances. Could our substitutes breathe life into a flaccid display? 

Pepe had a creditable effort go just wide on 71 but could have played in Aubameyang. Tierney did reach Aubameyang on 73 minutes but his header was weak. A minute later he hit a speculative volley just over from twenty five yards. A minute later Tierney set up Saka whose fine strike was just over.

As we entered the 80th minute it was a very even contest. Tierney chipped in a great ball to Aubameyang which he deflected onto a Newcastle defender. Hendrick flicked a corner wide after a Carroll drive was blocked. In injury time heroics by Leno with a brilliant double save kept us in the Cup as Carroll and Elliott went close. Then to our horror ESR was red carded for an innocuous challenge on the right flank but thankfully VAR (God bless it) saw it rescinded on review. It didn’t even merit a yellow.

After a late Newcastle corner we went into extra-time. 

The game had been dire and the Arsenal performance had been profoundly disappointing.

90 minutes – Arsenal 0 Newcastle 0 

The obvious apparent change was Lacazette. Would we see him? 

The reprieved ESR went close early in extra time after a bright run.

Then Xhaka produced a superb volley which Dubravka touched over – a wonderful effort. Elneny tried to reproduce that quality from the corner but hit a lamentable shot. Luiz then stepped in with two bits of defending to thwart Carroll.

Aubameyang was blocked in the area but VAR (useless idea) wasn’t interested. Then Saka wasted a good position with a cross which Dubravka took easily. Then he got in on the left but his cross was blocked. A great ball from Mari found Pepe who was squeezed out.

The first period of extra time saw no breakthrough.

HT – Extra time – Arsenal 0 Newcastle 0 

Lacazette replaced Pepe at the break. Would we be spared penalties ? 

At last we had a goal on 106 minutes with a beautiful piece of interplay between Lacazette, Saka and Smith-Rowe, ESR finished off the post from an angle. Isn’t football great at bringing dramatic headlines to humdrum games? 

Arsenal 1 Newcastle 0 

Lacazette’s presence was very important with the goal. He was an energetic addition to our ranks. We scored a beautiful second with a goal clipped in from close range by Aubameyang after superb play from Tierney who was set free by a lovely weighted pass from Xhaka.

Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0

Good defensive play by Cedric saw him injured as he blocked Gayle in the area. He was injured and replaced by Maitland-Niles. 

Lacazette, who added great vigour and penetration then hit a fierce shot over.

After two minutes of injury time the referee brought things to an end.

Full Time – Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 

A plucky and in some ways lucky win which underlined the huge difference between Arteta’s best talents and the appalling Willian and underwhelming Willock and Nelson. No team wins the Cup without luck and close calls. The Carroll miss, the superb double save from Leno at the death and the totally justified reprieve for ESR from the referee who sent off Nketiah for a similarly harmless challenge last summer,  were examples of things that went our way tonight. Arteta will have learnt a lot about his strength in depth tonight and frankly we haven’t got enough. We had a terrific performance from the admirable Tierney, all our substitutes played well, and I thought Luiz and Mari had effective games. But we were saved by youth and VAR tonight after more experienced players had failed to grasp the nettle… again.

Good luck Marine !

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