Arsenal hang on to qualify for quarterfinals
ARSENAL survived some second-half sloppiness and a valiant fight back from Brighton and Hove Albion to win 3-2 at the Amex Stadium and secure their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil both struck their first goals on return from injury to send Arsenal into a comfortable half-time lead, when an emphatic victory appeared on the cards. Instead it needed Tomas Rocisky’s second-half effort, either side of strikes from Chris O’Grady and Sam Baldock, to ensure that the holders’ name would be heading into the draw for the last 16.
After four of the Premier League’s top six crashed out, and another still faces a replay against lower-league opposition, that the Gunners brought an end to a spectacularly unpredictable weekend of FA Cup action with a win over their Championship opponents will be cause for some relief for manager Arsene Wenger.
There was little sign of the drama to come in the early going. The gulf in class and the scale of the task in front of Chris Hughton’s side was laid bare inside two minutes. Walcott, in just his second start in a 12-month period wrecked by injury, got his first goal since New Year’s Day 2014 by slamming home a near-post cross by fellow Southampton graduate Calum Chambers. Just over 20 minutes later the visitors’ lead was doubled and the sizable Arsenal contingent to have made the journey south began to relax with the belief that their side wouldn’t be going the same way as Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton or Tottenham, nor need a replay like Manchester United. This time it was Özil, only recently back from three months on the sidelines, who coolly struck just his second goal of the season and first since September.
The German’s strike was brilliantly set up by Rosicky, who, not for the first time in recent weeks, was the best player on the pitch. The Czech’s classy display was capped just before the hour mark by a clinical volley into the bottom corner from the edge of the box after a clever one-two with Olivier Giroud. It proved to be a decisive goal, too, with Brighton threatening a comeback that scarcely looked possible in the opening half. Otherwise isolated striker Chris O’Grady fired sweetly past an unmoved Wojciech Szczesny five minutes into the opening half to capitalize on some soft defending. And with 15 minutes remaining, Brighton struck again, this time after Baldock was allowed to run onto the end of a through ball and dink over Szcesny.