Emile Smith Rowe has been billed as the “difference maker” by no less an authority than Mesut Özil in the past week and he lived up to his reputation in style with a decisive goal 11 minutes from the end of extra time. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added another and it means Arsenal can still dream of retaining the FA Cup while Newcastle, who twice missed golden chances to steal the tie through Andy Carroll, will have to content themselves with keeping a relegation battle at arm’s length.
Both sides had initially made seven changes after their endeavours over the holiday period but Arsenal were forced into an unwanted eighth before kick-off. Gabriel Martinelli had hoped to build on last month’s high-energy return from injury but, after clearing the ball during a routine warm-up exercise, landed heavily and appeared to roll his ankle. The forward was clearly in pain and, while he was able to walk down the tunnel after receiving treatment, no chances were taken with his condition. Reiss Nelson, who scored the winner here in last season’s third-round tie against Leeds, received an unexpected opportunity of his own.
He showed plenty of early appetite to seize it. Within 45 seconds he had forced Martin Dubravka into a low save after jinking inside from the left wing and then, leading a break after a spell of Newcastle pressure, was fouled clumsily by Jamaal Lascelles. The visiting captain, returning from a six-week absence brought about by the aftereffects of a Covid-19 infection, could be excused some rustiness.
Steve Bruce had suggested it was “morally wrong” for football to continue at this stage of the pandemic but, on the pitch at least, Newcastle looked able to forget such scruples. Carroll gave them a focal point to play off and, receiving a diagonal ball, he forced a block from David Luiz. They continued to pen Arsenal back on occasion, without looking especially like fashioning a clear chance.
Arsenal created a decent one in the 25th minute when Aubameyang, found behind the defence by a harmless-looking long pass, brought the ball in from the right and forced a parry from Dubravka. The rebound was blazed wastefully over by Willian, who could do with winning a few hearts and minds in these parts. Aubameyang had looked offside, although perhaps not by the three yards loudly claimed by Bruce.
Otherwise there was little spark during a first half in which the temperature dipped to freezing point. Arsenal’s intention to prosper via the flanks was clear but, on the opposite side to Nelson, Nicolas Pépé struggled to exploit promising positions. When good work from Aubameyang found him in space, he waited long enough for Isaac Hayden to tackle immaculately. Without a natural No 10, the hosts’ attacking play was largely reminiscent of their pre-Christmas drudgery; they won a string of set pieces but found many of them thudded away by Carroll’s forehead.
Lascelles did not re-emerge after the break, Matt Ritchie slotting in at left wing-back. Paul Dummett, who moved inside, delivered early on for Carroll to head wide; Carroll then forced Bernd Leno into his first action with a snap shot after holding off Cédric Soares.
Newcastle were looking bolder and in the 56th minute Carroll should have made it third time lucky. Jeff Hendrick drilled the ball back in after a free-kick was half-cleared and Carroll, onside at the far post, seemed certain to score. Instead he sidefooted across Leno and wide; one might charitably wonder whether he had seen it late.
In the meantime Pépé and Kieran Tierney had hit, hoped and failed to trouble Dubravka. It was little surprise when Mikel Arteta introduced Smith Rowe in place of Nelson, who had faded. Almost immediately Aubameyang reached Mohamed Elneny’s pass and drew Dubravka only to nudge harmlessly across goal. The keeper then parried Joe Willock’s downwards header from a delicious Pépé cross as openings finally began to arrive semi-regularly.
More arrived at both ends as the 90 minutes ticked down, Carroll seeing the best but allowing Leno to save. Immediately afterwards Smith Rowe was reprieved by Chris Kavanagh, who used his pitchside monitor to downgrade a red card he had shown for a foul on Sean Longstaff, so extra time was contested on equal terms.
Arsenal felt short-changed by the technology when it was next used to judge Ciaran Clark had not tripped Aubameyang. They pressed for a winner and were eventually rewarded when Smith Rowe controlled his fellow substitute Alexandre Lacazette’s header before firing in low off the far post.
Aubameyang then made sure from close in.