WHEN Arsenal won the FA Cup little more than five months ago it was heralded as evidence that Mikel Arteta finally had the club plotting the right course again, having become rudderless under his fellow Spaniard Unai Emery.

This particular competition has become something of a crutch for the north London club. Last season’s triumph was their fourth in seven years and 14th overall – a record.

Arsene Wenger presided over three of those wins as the mighty beast he had created drew some of its last breaths but if those pots were viewed as poor consolation prizes for supporters who had gorged on league titles under the Frenchman, Arteta’s victory was held up as something transformative.

Back on August 1, their 2-1 win over Chelsea was perceived as the beginnings of a rebirth. Arteta had outwitted his mentor Pep Guardiola in the semi-final against Manchester City with a tactical masterclass.

Arteta then produced a similarly assured performance to overcome Frank Lampard in the final, a victory which has lost some of its cachet in the months since, given the respective struggles of both clubs and their coaches.

In defence of Arteta, it is he – rather than Lampard – who looks more equipped to rescue a boat seemingly destined for the rocks.

The Arsenal manager made a number of changes to his starting line-up so there was always the chance that they might find themselves reverting to the kind of wretched form that had plagued them throughout most of last month until a mini-revival over the Christmas period.

Perhaps not coincidentally, David Luiz, the much-maligned centre-back, was absent for that latter period. Also marginalised has been Willian, high up on the list of least successful “free” transfers due to the £7.2 million annual salary he receives.

To his credit, Luiz did create the best opening of the first half after 24 minutes when his quick free-kick from inside his own half found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all on his own wide on the right.

He made haste into the area and thrashed a shot at Martin Dubravka but the Newcastle goalkeeper gave away no clue that this was his first game of the season with a strong save. The ball eventually found its way to Willian but, in keeping with his season to date, his finish was horrible.

If Arteta has doubts about some of his players, he has no such concerns with his left-back.

On three occasions in the first half, Kieran Tierney provided Arsenal with a thrust that had Newcastle on high alert. Only poor play from those around him prevented a finish that his keen foraging and accurate crossing deserved.

There were minor queries about how Tierney might fare at one of England’s biggest clubs when he arrived from Celtic in summer 2019. Now the question is about whether Tierney has already outgrown Arsenal such has been his level of consistency this season. He was man of the match in this game albeit he was less sure footed at the start of the second half, almost gifting Andy Carroll a goal as the Newcastle centre-forward became more of a factor after the break.

Emile Smith Rowe’s introduction at half time gave Arsenal more verve in attacking areas and Nicolas Pepe, another of the megabucks signings that have failed to spark, showed signs of why he was so highly coveted when he was signed last summer. It was his 64th-minute cross from the edge of the 18-yard box that almost provided the opener when Joe Willock nodded a header downwards but again Dubravka proved equal to it.

Tierney was a tad more conservative with his forward runs but he still provided a considerable threat. After 74 minutes, Luiz launched a sweeping cross-field pass into his stride and he found Bukayo Saka, a player he seems to enjoy the company of on the left, drifting inside. The winger’s shot cleared the top but it was a measure of Arsenal’s increasing dominance.

With eight minutes remaining the Scotland defender got to the byline and drilled over a cross that landed flush on Aubameyang’s head only for Ciaran Clark to snuff out the danger.

In injury time, Newcastle should have won it when the ball arrived at Carroll’s feet following Elliott Anderson’s mis-kick but Bernd Leno made a crucial save and then mopped up the rebound.

Smith Rowe escaped a late dismissal when Chris Kavanagh flashed a red card at the Arsenal attacker for a tackle on Sean Longstaff but changed his mind after Andre Marriner, the VAR official, recommended that he watch a replay of the incident.

Extra time became as much of an endurance test for the neutral viewer as it did the players. After an insipid 90 minutes, the last thing that was needed was another 30.

Arsenal dominated as Newcastle tired having spent swathes of the game defending and Smith Rowe – who thought his night was over 20 minutes earlier – started and finished the move that put the holders in front with 11 minutes of extra time remaining.

With three minutes left Arsenal sealed their place in the fourth round. Tierney exchanged passes with Granit Xhaka and crossed to the six-yard box where his captain Aubameyang was waiting to stab home his sixth goal in the four FA Cup matches he has played.

Such is the surreal nature of the football calendar these days it is only 162 days since Aubameyang got his hands on the famous old trophy.

Once again, it has become the one cup the Gunners look capable of winning.