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The best half seen in 18 months of Steve Bruce…? Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 Match Report

7 days ago
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The FA Cup, a misery business for those of a black and white persuasion since Mike Ashley’s ownership began.

Making it past the fourth round once in thirteen attempts is shambolic.

Fortunately, Steve Bruce sauntered into the club boasting that he would take the cups seriously and who could doubt that he has done? Two quarter finals in two seasons speaks for itself.

Except it really doesn’t.

Multiple changes have occurred in every cup game team selection and Newcastle hadn’t beaten a Premier League opponent in either of those ‘successful’ cup runs.

When the line-ups were announced before kick-off, another seven changes had been made from the team that lost last weekend against Leicester.

Arsenal made the same number of changes, but still managed to put out a team costing over £200 million, in fact, Pepe and Aubameyang combined cost nearly double our whole starting side. When you factor in that Joelinton cost half of our total transfer output, it is a sorry situation.

Would it really matter? Would any team put out beat Arsenal?

Having been knocked out by every half decent team we’ve faced under Bruce in the cups; Leicester, Man City and… Brentford, could we expect more against the side that have won the competition more than any other? Were we in too deep before a ball was even kicked?

We set up with what appeared to be a 5-4-1 but there were long periods of the first half that Carroll dropped in as an auxiliary centre back to make it a 6-4-0. He must have had more touches in and around our box than Arsenal’s during the first half. If Krafth and Dummett were set up to be wing-backs, I struggle to remember them advancing too far beyond the halfway line.

Not much to comment on in the first forty five minutes with Newcastle set up to absorb pressure for large portions.
Joelinton looked like stirring up some excitement after twenty minutes when he nicked the ball on the halfway line and charged up the pitch. I say charged. I think Captain Tom would have broken away quicker. With the Arsenal defence stretched, he was indecisive and played his pass a fraction late. Had he released it a second or two earlier, into Carroll’s run, Andy could have had a first-time crack on his left peg. When he finally gave the ball to Carroll, after an unnecessary stepover, there was a bit too much zip on it and the big lad struggled to make anything of it.

Dubravka made a good save from Aubameyang after he’d latched onto a long ball that beat our temporarily high line.
Some clever football between Aubameyang and Pepe left Lascelles in no man’s land and with Pepe bearing down on the six-yard box Hayden made an outstanding last-ditch tackle.

Second half saw Lascelles, who has had a lengthy absence and was on a booking, off for Ritchie. I naturally believed we were setting up with Dummett joining Hayden, Clark (and Carroll?) at centre back and Ritchie dropping in at wing back. However, even if that was the intention, the second half saw a drastic change in attitude. Both wing-backs pushed up the pitch. We pressed the ball regularly and for long spells we were the better team.

The first ten minutes of the second half saw a lot more than the whole first forty five, as we came out swinging. Carroll had a magnificent spell; winning free-kicks, showing nimble footwork, holding up play, hitting a decent strike on his right foot from the edge of the box and then latching onto a mishit from Hendrick to side foot the ball wide from six yards. The flag was up but he was well onside, and the goal would have stood.

Aubameyang broke free on the hour mark, after a period of Newcastle dominance, and Dubravka’s indecision gave him the chance to shoot. He lifted the shot over the keeper but the ball went wide.

The next big chance fell to the Gunners too with Willock seeing a point blank header saved at full stretch by Dubravka. The resulting corner was headed clear by Carroll for the umpteenth time.

All the small things were going our way and we didn’t look like the basket case team we have done so many times recently. Carroll was winning every header and chest down, Almiron nutmegged someone, Longstaff made an excellent slide tackle.

Although Newcastle were the better team for a prolonged period the next best chances fell to Arsenal, with Pepe taking a left footed shot from outside the box. This went wide. Aubameyang had a header comfortably saved and then struck a volley from twenty-five yards that cleared the crossbar.

By this point, Arsenal were looking the more dangerous team. The rhyming pair of Saka and Xhaka had been introduced earlier and Saka struck a vicious effort over the bar from the edge of the box.

Murphy had also been brought on for Krafth and, after 80 minutes, we got something we’ve waited all season for. The first glimpse of Anderson on the pitch. He came on with Yedlin for Joelinton and Almiron. which had me questioning our formation. Not the first time that’s happened this season.

When Arsenal got a free kick in a good position, David Luiz’ header was saved by Dubravka. The ball was launched to Murphy who broke away on the wing. His pull back was met by Anderson on the edge of the box for what could be the most glorious of debut goals. His shot was blocked but it fell to Andy Carroll having his best game since his return, clear through, eight yards out, on his preferred left foot, to steal the glory!

His thumping strike was too close to Leno who blocked it tremendously. Carroll swiped again but Leno pushed it away and Carroll connected with nothingness and then Leno pounced on the free ball as Anderson and Yedlin raced towards it. It was a golden chance and once that I’m sure Carroll will be playing over and over in his head.

A red card for Smith Rowe went to VAR and was overturned after the referee consulted the pitchside monitor.

Extra time saw Dubravka make a fantastic save from a Xhaka volley. The resulting corner saw a cluster in the six yard box reminiscent of a pre-Covid Times Square. Fortunately, we cleared the cross and the shot that came after was well over.

Clark appeared to get lucky when a trailing heel seemed to trip Aubameyang in the box but ref and VAR agreed that it wasn’t a penalty. The various TV playback angles were inconclusive as to whether any contact was made.

Several good blocks saw us through to half time of extra time with the clean sheet still intact.

Two big changes were made at the mini break with Lacazette and Gayle replacing Pepe and Carroll.

After such a composed and resolute display, it was just our luck that a silly error from Clark led to Arsenal breaking through. Emile Smith Rowe, the man who had his red card overturned, pounced onto the nod on from Lacazette and smashed the ball in off the post.

It was all downhill from here and a squared ball from Tierney with a few minutes left saw Aubameyang score a tap in.
It would have been great for the game to have gone to penalties and to see a showdown of these two goalkeepers. Both had had outstanding games. But it wasn’t to be. We move along to the next one.

Lots of positives to be taken from the game including an excellent return to action from Dubravka. To keep a clean sheet for 109 minutes was impressive. It’s going to be an interesting battle for the gloves for the rest of the season. The second half was possibly the best half I’ve seen from us under Bruce and Andy Carroll played fantastically well. If he or Anderson had scored in that late melee of normal time it would have been the perfect ending to the match.

However, it’s another game without a win, another game without a goal, another FA Cup third round exit, some great opportunities spurned and a squad of tired players who have to pick themselves up before an important game in midweek. Disappointment is the Newcastle anthem for the FA Cup under Ashley and it’s what we felt once again.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 – Saturday 9 January 5.30pm

Goals:

Newcastle:

Arsenal:

Smith Rowe 109, Aubameyang 117

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Possession was Arsenal 61% (65%)  Newcastle 39% (35%)

Total shots were Arsenal 25 (7) Newcastle 12 (2)

Shots on target Arsenal 9 (3) Newcastle 2 (0)

Corners were Arsenal 8 (5) Newcastle 3 (0)

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Krafth (Murphy 68), Lascelles (Ritchie 45), Clark, Dummett, Hayden, Sean Longstaff, Hendrick, Almiron (Yedlin 81), Joelinton (Anderson 81), Carroll (Gayle 105)

Unused Subs:

Gillespie, Matty Longstaff

(Gary Lineker announces what the BBC TV audience was for Arsenal v Newcastle United – Read HERE)

(Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(After 0 wins in 7 and 1 goal in over 8 hours – Steve Bruce sees ‘signs of progress’ at Newcastle – Read HERE)

(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 (AET) – Read HERE)

(Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 (AET) – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s defeat – Read HERE)

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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