If Mikel Arteta needed confirmation that the youthful dynamism of Arsenal’s last fortnight points his most enduring path, then it has been provided with force here.
His team had flattered themselves to cheat against Newcastle for long stretches of a game in which underachievers such as Nicolas Pepe and the carefree Willian, both completely outclassed in the league lately, failed to make their mark. arguments. The cavalry, when they arrived in the second half, were led by Bukayo Saka, 19, and Emile Smith Rowe, 20. There was no escape from the improvement that followed and, when Smith Rowe finally broke the deadlock with 11 minutes left in extra time, it was as if some of the more senior players in Arteta were close to the point of no return.
Newcastle’s FA Cup campaign certainly was, although they competed admirably and would have made the extra period unnecessary if Andy Carroll had scored one of the two glorious chances in the second half. They were left to regret only when Smith Rowe, who had arrived just before the hour mark, won possession from 30 yards and instantly handed the ball to Saka before peeling into the box. When their replacement colleague Alexandre Lacazette nodded on Saka’s float pass, Smith Rowe was there to control with his chest and finish clean at the far post of Martin Dubravka.
“He’s getting more and more important to the team and he showed it again when he came in,” Smith Rowe’s Arteta said. “The personality he plays with, we ask him to be more in the box and today he scored a really important goal for us.
Smith Rowe would not have been on the pitch to provide that VAR had failed to produce one of his best results. With the final action of 90 minutes, he caught up with Sean Longstaff with a late tackle and immediately received a red card from Chris Kavanagh. “I was going crazy,” said Arteta, who quickly saw a replay. Kavanagh received the same after a check from Andre Marriner at Stockley Park; after consulting with his field monitor, he properly downgraded the punishment to a reservation and Smith Rowe could be bracing for the headlines.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a second goal before the finish and, on recent evidence, anything that keeps your head up is another bonus. It came after a low cross from Kieran Tierney, who had become the dominant force in the game as he progressed. It’s no small feat for a player in his position, but in his current form there is no better left-back in the Premier League than Tierney, who combines boundless energy with a forward run incisor and a reliable and precise final balloon. Bringing him in alongside Saka and Smith Rowe guarantees a collective zeal and intention that Arsenal have struggled to uncover with any regularity in recent years.
Tierney’s precision ensured a slightly harsh score for Newcastle. They had limited Arsenal’s openings in the first half, although Willian wasted after Dubravka parried Aubameyang and became more daring after the interval. Carroll missed his first chance as Smith Rowe waited to come, shooting Bernd Leno and wide with the goal at his mercy after Jeff Hendrick broke into the penalty area. His second, in added time, would have won the match but it gave Leno a superb head-to-head block.
“There’s no one more disappointed than Andy that he didn’t take it, but the way he led the line was great,” said Steve Bruce. “I couldn’t be happier with the way they did their job, we just had to grab this great opportunity when it presented itself.
His observation on Carroll’s overall performance, which included a number of booming clearings from Arsenal’s set pieces, was right. Dubravka also excelled, saving a header Joe Willock probably should have converted and flipped a Granit Xhaka volley in extra time. But Arsenal have shown cold heads where it counts and can dream of retaining the trophy won in August.
Arteta will be hoping Gabriel Martinelli will be available for the rest of his Cup defense, but there was immediate concern when the Brazilian, who rivals Smith Rowe for impact since returning from injury, rolled an ankle during the pre-match warm-up. He was driven into the tunnel and replaced in the starting lineup by Reiss Nelson.
“He was in tears, he was in a lot of pain,” Arteta said of the player he discovered in the locker room. “It didn’t look good and I guess we’re not going to have good news with him.” At least Smith Rowe and his cohort seem capable of delivering a lot, no matter what.