In a turgid evening of football Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 after extra time in the FA Cup third round.
The win sees Arsenal advance and makes it four straight wins for Mikel Arteta’s men. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Emile Smith Rowe
Emile Smith Rowe is 20 years-old.
Emile Smith Rowe is Arsenal’s most important attacking player.
These two statements seem contradictory because how can some random 20-year-old from the youth academy be the most important attacking player of a squad with such highly-paid attacking talents like Arsenal’s?
Simply: he plays quickly. Too many of Arsenal’s players tend to ponder on the ball, while Smith Rowe’s game is characterised by quick and aggressive play both with the ball at his feet and even in terms of his tackling.
This almost got him in trouble tonight as a tackle at the end of normal time saw him shown red only for VAR to correctly reduce that to a yellow. Just as well too because Smith Rowe went on to score the opening goal for the Gunners, firing home superbly in extra time to lift Arsenal to a third-round victory they didn’t really deserve.
Emile Smith Rowe IS Arsenal.
Loser: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The Gabon striker has just one goal in his last 11 games for Arsenal and the saddest thing is he never once looked like adding to that total against Newcastle. Fair enough the Magpies played a low block and denied him space to run into, but he was so poor.
He just never looked like scoring. And alright, Newcastle played a deep block to stifle the striker, but even then when he actually got played clean through on goal in a rare defensive lapse for Newcastle, you could tell he was going to miss. Where last season you would have bet the house on him slotting the ball home, this season it was different. And of course he did miss, dribbling a shot so wide it didn’t even go out for a goal kick and could be collected by defenders.
He did score in the end, later in extra-time, but it was literally a can’t-miss kind of chance as Kieran Tierney put it on a plate and all the Gabonese had to do was redirect the crosses power into the back of the net. If Arsenal can keep creating those kind of chances for him then fine, but whenever they ask anything more of him than redirecting crosses into goal he falters.
Winner: Gabriel Martinelli
Gabriel Martinelli didn’t play against Newcastle as he got injured in the warm-up. And yes that is obviously a bad thing, but this game and performance was such a case study in why Arsenal not only benefit when he starts but even at just 19 years of age the Gunners absolutely need him to start, that he can only be a winner.
Without Martinelli’s pace, movement and daring out wide, Arsenal were flatter than an opened yet unfinished four day-old can of Coke. They were a little better second-half when Smith Rowe came off the bench, but still were a ways short of the level they should be at. And while there are many factors as to why, the absence of Martinelli is definitely one.
Loser: Ciaran Clark
To be absolutely clear, Ciaran Clark played well for 99.9% of the match against Arsenal. The Newcastle defender was constantly in the right place to intervene and clear Arsenal attacks. His 4 clearances was a joint game-high and he really did play well.
But then in the second-half of extra time he made an awful pass out of defence, giving it back to the Gunners who mere seconds later had taken advantage of the disarray Clark’s concession of possession caused and scored the game’s opening goal.
Winner: Kieran Tierney
This is becoming predictable, obviously, but Kieran Tierney was excellent again. Really excellent. The degree to which the Scot is routinely Arsenal’s best player or second-best player is almost comedic because he’s a left-back. And not even a left-back in the sense that Arsenal change their whole system to make him their attacking outlet, as Liverpool did with Trent Alexander-Arnold, no.
Tierney just thrives even in the chaos that is the Arsenal system, where nothing makes sense. He always manages to be their most creative player with his overlaps and crosses. Tonight he created a game-high 3 chances and it was his stunning run and cross that allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameang to score Arsenal’s second and settle the game.
Winner: Mikel Arteta
Alright, the football wasn’t good. In fact it was mostly pretty bad. Alright he waited a bizarrely long amount to time to bring on his most in-form striker (who almost straight away got an assist). And alright there are still questions about his ability to lift Arsenal and the Mesut Ozil situation remains absolutely perplexing; but Arsenal won. And sometimes a win in the cup is all you need.
Arsenal turned an average season into a great one last year by winning the FA Cup. Mikel Arteta knows the power of a cup run and will be out to do the same again as well as try to win the Europa League. The Gunners aren’t likely to make top four in the league but they have a real chance to win at least one cup this season and that will be enough to keep Arteta in the job.
So in both the literal and figurative sense: Mikel Arteta is a winner.