Arsenal progressed to the 5th round of the FA Cup this afternoon with a 3-2 win away to Brighton & Hove Albion in what was an entertaining cup tie.
The visit of Arsenal meant record numbers at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium, but Arsenal fielded a makeshift line-up that included 6 changes to the side that thrashed West Ham in midweek. Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott were all named on a strong Arsenal bench and captain Thomas Vermaelen was injured for the game. Per Mertesacker took the armband with both Vermaelen and vice-captain Mikel Arteta out with injuries.
In came Tomas Rosicky for only his second start of the season, Andre Santos started a game for the first time since November, whilst Carl Jenkinson started at right-back, Laurent Koscielny took Vermaelen’s place in the team and both Abou Diaby and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came into the starting line-up.
The first clear chance of the game came with 15 minutes played. Wojciech Szczesny saved to deny Ashley Barnes from giving the hosts the lead and they were punished just seconds later.
Szczesny gave the ball to Tomas Rosicky who burst forward with attacking intent. He found Lukas Podolski who then set it up nicely for Olivier Giroud, who curled in a beautiful strike to the top corner of the net which gave Arsenal the lead.
Brighton’s new signing Leonardo Ulloa thought he had equalised when he tapped in from close range, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside. It wouldn’t be long before Brighton did equalise though.
Just three minutes after Ulloa’s goal was disallowed, Brighton had the ball in the back of the net again. This time it counted. Will Buckley played a short corner to David Lopez, who would cross the ball in for Barnes to head past Szczesny. He beat Szczesny to the ball in the air and Arsenal’s defenders just seemed to completely fall asleep on the corner. A bad moment for Szczesny and Arsenal’s defence. They all seemed to look around and blame each other.
Brighton lost captain Gordon Greer to injury before half time and were forced into a sub in the 37th minute, with Gary Dicker replacing Greer.
They lost another influential player as Will Buckley was replaced at the start of the second half by Kazenga LuaLua as Gus Poyet was forced into his second substitution.
Arsenal started the second half positively. Carl Jenkinson saw his effort saved well by Casper Ankergren in the Brighton goal early in the second half.
In the 53rd minute, Lukas Podolski came extremely close to giving the Gunners the lead when his free-kick smashed against the crossbar. Brighton can’t say they hadn’t been warned. Three minutes later and Diaby picked out Giroud with a clipped through ball and the Frenchman held off Adam El-Abd and then beat Ankergren to put Arsenal back in front.
The Gunners could have added to their lead when Rosicky sent Giroud through again. This time Ankergren was able to make a good save to help keep his team in this exciting cup tie.
Arsenal were punished just a few minutes later when some poor defending allowed Barnes to cross the ball for Brighton new boy Ulloa, who scored a debut goal for his new club.
Shortly after, Arsene Wenger sent on the big guns. He held them in reserve in case they were needed and they were. The last thing Arsenal wanted was a replay, but unless they could find a winner soon, that was a likely outcome. Theo Walcott replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky was taken off for Jack Wilshere.
Olivier Giroud looked the most likely man to find the winning goal as he chased a hat-trick. The French striker had two good chances to get it in the closing stages and he was unlucky not to.
The winning goal came when an Arsenal corner was punched out by Ankergren, but only as far as Theo Walcott, whose volley deflected in off of El-Abd to the delight of the travelling support behind the goal. As far as I know, that goal has been awarded to Walcott, so that’s what we’ll say it is, a Walcott winner.
Arsenal are into the hat for Round 5 of the FA Cup. This was a good test for the Gunners, but they needed their stars to come on and save the day. A replay wouldn’t have suited either side really, with Brighton chasing promotion to the Premier League and Arsenal having a very congested fixture list, although I’m sure Brighton would have enjoyed a trip to the Emirates and the money that comes with it.
The draw for the next round is tomorrow at around 5:45pm. Details of the draw will be posted on the site.
I will just say one more thing. I don’t like saying this about Arsenal players, but I really don’t want to see Andre Santos at the club any longer than this summer. He is terrible. He seems like a very nice bloke off the pitch, but unfortunately his performance today and whenever he plays are always terrible. He normally ends up costing us a goal and you will see on the highlights that he just had a nightmare today. That was against a Championship side too. How he ever got capped by Brazil 22 times, I will never know. The one thing I will say about him is he is ok going forward. I don’t mind him so much there, but he most certainly is NOT a left-back and never will be I’m afraid.