Brighton and Hove Albion 2 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Giroud (16)
1 – 1 Barnes (33)
1 – 2 Giroud (56)
2 – 2 Ulloa (62)
2 – 3 Walcott (85)
On a day of cup upsets, Arsène Wenger’s reshuffled pack progressed through to the FA Cup Fifth Round with a hard-fought but deserved victory. Twice Olivier Giroud gave Arsenal the lead, twice their hosts pegged them back and with a replay looming, Theo Walcott’s deflected shot proved decisive. It was a typical cup-tie with Brighton pushing their more illustrious visitors to the final whistle.
The manager had an eye on a busy upcoming fixture list with the visits of Liverpool and Stoke to The Emirates this week, resting those who have been heavily involved in recent months albeit to the bench, bringing in those whose seasons have stuttered through injury. It was to mixed success, with lack of match sharpness noticeable in some and disjointed teamwork at times. In the end, the objective was to win and that was achieved; the flame of honours is flickering in the wind but far from extinguished.
After the match, the manager was examined on his intentions in the transfer market, specifically on signing Jovetic. Denying an enquiry or offer, he rightly put forward the case of Olivier Giroud. You understand why questions are asked of the depth in the squad. If Wenger fields his strongest XI, he has no alternative central striker. He needs someone else in the squad; one injury of any note would leave him woefully exposed. The numbers are short indeed, Arsène.
But Giroud is not going to be easy to leave out. As he has settled into life at the club, his confidence and performances have markedly improved not that the former seemed to suffer any problems when goals were hard to come by; repeatedly, he put himself back into positions where he could miss. Now those misses are becoming less frequent as yesterday’s brace took his total to thirteen for the season. A touch more composure from Theo Walcott and the Frenchman’s maiden Arsenal hat-trick might have arrived.
The game sprang to life fifteen minutes in. Barnes forced Sczcesny into an outstanding save and from the ensuing corner, the Pole fed Rosicky. No doubt Brighton had been cautioned about the speed of Arsenal’s counter-attacking but the marauding Czech gave them an object lesson as he combined with Podolski to create the opening for Giroud, whose sumptuous shot arced through the air into the net. The first meaningful attack from the visitors led to the deadlock being broken.
Brighton took time to regain their composure but as the half edged toward the interval, they levelled. Ulloa had warned Arsenal with a goal rightly disallowed for offside before Barnes stole a march on the Arsenal defence and unmarked, he headed home before Szczesny could meet Lopez’s cross. Their right flank was proving to be a productive avenue as Santos was clearly off the pace of the game; that might have changed had he been more accurate with his shot before the interval as Arsenal offered more threat than their hosts.
The second half followed the pattern of the first, Brighton quicker to settle than the visitors yet it was Jenkinson whose effort came closest to separating the two sides. From their Arsenal took to stamping their authority and the sense that a goal was going to come as Podolski curled an exquisite freekick onto the bar, usurping Theo Walcott’s right to take set-pieces in future. Three minutes later, Giroud’s run gave Diaby the time to pick the pass, the Frenchman getting a poachers goal as he flicked the ball wide of his marker to give himself time to score. A third would have sealed the game but Ankergren foiled Giroud from close range.
Brighton pulled level when Ulloa scored, once more unmarked, three minutes later but even then, it never felt like a tie Arsenal would lose. Mainly because the manager decided to bring on his ‘big guns’, or ‘big gums’ as that was initially typed. Walcott, Wilshere and Gibbs entered the fray and impacted the outcome, Giroud teased with his attempts at getting a hat-trick, firing high, wide or occasion, both; anywhere but the net.
The decisive moment came with five minutes to go. Ankergren met a corner but did not get enough distance on his punch and Walcott skilfully guided the ball onto a Brighton defender and into the net. The fight left the hosts with five minutes to go, a deflating blow to their hopes.
Post-match, Wenger acknowledged this was a match with inherent risks attached to the rotation. Had it gone wrong, the scapegoat had already been selected, Andre Santos occupying that berth. It did not backfire in the end and whilst the scoreline was tighter than it ought to have been, Arsenal achieved their objective. They are through and are awaiting the flick of the wrist when the balls to be drawn this afternoon’s fifth round draw.