Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has backed Emile Smith Rowe to continue his fine form after the youngster helped the FA Cup holders beat Newcastle 2-0 after extra-time on Saturday.
The 20-year-old was introduced just before the hour mark at the Emirates and grabbed the opener in the 109th minute with a smart finish into the bottom corner.
Smith Rowe had seen red at the end of normal time, but referee Chris Kavanagh was told by VAR to review the decision and after the pitchside monitor was used, the challenge on Sean Longstaff was deemed only worthy of a yellow card.
While boss Mikel Arteta also turned to other key players on the bench, it was the academy graduate who grabbed the headlines after the third-round tie having starred in the previous three games.
Xhaka told Arsenal Media: “He’s a lovely guy, a very good guy who wants to improve, he listens to us experienced players a lot and he’s so important to us.
“You can see how many balls he recovers, how many key balls he plays at the front and for the front guys as well he’s so important.
“He has to keep going like this, to improve day-by-day but he has a good mentality and that’s very important as well.”
Following a lacklustre first half, Gunners manager Arteta did not wait long before he called for the cavalry and soon after Smith Rowe’s introduction, he was joined on the pitch by Xhaka and Bukayo Saka.
Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Willian were the players to make way for the aforementioned trio and for the latter it was another below-par showing.
Since the Brazilian completed a free transfer from Chelsea in the summer and penned a three-year deal, he has largely underwhelmed with only three assists registered across 18 appearances in four different competitions.
But Arteta said of the 32-year-old: “I think he was improving and improving. The other day he came on really well against West Brom.
“He’s been out as well because he was ill so he’s missed almost two weeks of training and football and it was the first time that he started the game.
“He had some good moments and he had some other moments where he needed more help sometimes and some decisions weren’t the best, but we’re gonna keep trying with him.
“He’s showing in training how much he wants it. He’s got some highlights and it’s about keeping the confidence on him. We know the player that he is and it’s about time to show it.”
The Magpies’ third-round exit extends their drought for silverware despite making the quarter-finals of the competition in 2020 and reaching the last eight of this season’s League Cup.
It could have been different for Newcastle had Andy Carroll taken his two clear-cut chances in the second half.
Boss Steve Bruce said: “In 18 months we’ve been to two quarter-finals and we are disappointed we didn’t take the next step.
“I’ve always said as long as I’m sitting in the seat, I will keep treating the cups the way they should be.
“There is no hiding the disappointment we all feel at going out, but we had a right good crack at it and if we had taken our chances we might be through to the next round so we’ll dust ourselves down and get ready to go again.”
Newcastle head to Sheffield United on Tuesday eager to snap a seven-game winless run and Bruce confirmed Callum Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey were not part of the squad in London due to slight knocks.
“Purely precaution and hopefully we will leave it with medical people and they will be fine,” he added.
“With all the problems we have got, we left a few behind at home and hopefully now they will be ready for Tuesday and we’ll be able to freshen up the team.”
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