FA Cup: Wenger's gamble almost backfires

Newcastle 1 Arsenal 1

Newcastle 1 Arsenal 1

Frenchman Laurent Robert kept Newcastle’s FA Cup dream alive as Arsene Wenger’s gamble almost backfired.

Robert cancelled out Edu’s 10th-minute opener eight minutes after the break as United piled the pressure on a Gunners side which started without influential duo Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires.

Aaron Hughes picked up a 23rd-minute yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Edu as Newcastle worked hard to close down space, and the ploy proved successful as they forced a series of free-kicks and corners.

But the delivery in promising situations from Robert and Solano was too often not good enough, leaving the visitors’ defence largely unpunished.

Solano did provide some more promising service on the half-hour after Andy O’Brien and Acuna battled to retain possession deep inside enemy territory, but Cort’s header under pressure dropped wide.

But Wright was a relieved man a minute later when Nikos Dabizas met Robert’s free-kick with a thunderbolt header, but could not sneak it inside the keeper’s right post.

Arsenal were content to sit back and try to hit their opponents on the break as they did so effectively last Saturday, but this time, they found themselves under ever-increasing pressure.

Stepanovs had to hack another Cort header away after Solano had picked the striker out at the far post on 31 minutes as the Magpies maintained a high tempo.

Even Sol Campbell and Dixon, who had been so solid last week, showed signs of wilting under the pressure, although it was Dabizas who almost gifted Wiltord a clear run at goal with an ill-judged 40th-minute back-pass.

The Gunners retreated behind the ball in numbers when Newcastle were in possession, and although Robert made half a yard of space for Shearer on the stroke of half-time, his shot from distance did not trouble Wright.

At the start of the second half Vieira immediately imposed a stranglehold on the middle of the field in a bid to protect his back four.

The visitors launched a series of long balls up towards Kanu which Dabizas dealt with ably to get his side moving forward once again, but Solano and Robert failed to make the most of some useful possession and Cort looked out of sorts with things not going his way.

But the Magpies were back in the game with 53 minutes gone when Shearer flicked on Given’s clearance and Robert collected the ball before lashing an unstoppable low drive past the helpless Wright from 22 yards.

The goal gave Newcastle a massive lift as the crowd raised the temperature inside St James’ and two minutes later Distin headed over from Solano’s corner.

Cort blazed a right-foot shot wide of Wright’s right post a minute later, and that was the signal for Wenger to order Pires to strip off and join the fray with 58 minutes gone as Ljungberg made way.

The Frenchman was instrumental in a flowing Gunners attack within a minute as he found Wiltord, who crossed deep for Kanu, but Robert had tracked back well to snuff out the danger.

Bergkamp too was thrown into the mix as a 61st-minute replacement for Edu, and he too almost had a swift impact, running on to Pires’ intelligent pass and forcing Given to come out to clear.

But it was United’s French connection which almost paid off on 65 minutes when Robert fed a return pass to Distin and he produced a superb cross which Cort could only prod out for a goal-kick.

Given had to be quick off the mark again on 67 minutes as a Bergkamp pass was deflected into Wiltord’s path, but Wright too was called upon seconds later when Solano took aim from 15 yards.

Bobby Robson replaced Cort with England Under-21 international Shola Ameobi with 20 minutes remaining, but with Bergkamp and Pires posing a greater threat, the game started to even up.

However, McClen’s fine pass created a golden opportunity for Ameobi on 76 minutes, but he decided to let the ball run rather than take a touch, and that put Wright in the driving seat.

The Nigerian-born striker made space for himself two minutes later with a nice turn, but after cutting inside Campbell, he shot weakly at Wright.

But it was Robert at the sharp end again seven minutes from time when Solano found Shearer down the right and the Frenchman met his first-time cross with a header which dropped nicely into Wright’s arms.

Vieira headed straight at Given after Stepanovs had recycled an 88th-minute Pires corner and Robert tested Wright with a long-range free-kick, but nothing could separate the sides.

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