If it was easy, it wouldn’t be Arsenal, right?
The fact was, for the best part 60 minutes of this FA Cup fourth round game there was only one team in control or who looked like winning.
Making a number of changes to the starting lineup which saw Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott start only their sixth game together, while bringing in Tomas Rosicky and Wojciech Szczesny, Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, Alexis Sanchez and David Ospina dropped to the bench.
Arsenal couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
Some great work by Calum Chambers on the right wing, who started in place of Hector Bellerin who had a slight ankle knock, delivered the ball into Theo who controlled it brilliantly before slotting home with only 89 seconds on the clock.
From there it was total domination from Arsenal as they pressured all over the pitch in ways it would have been reasonable to have expected from Brighton. Their passing was slick and Tomas Rosicky took over where Santi Cazorla had left off in conducting the Arsenal performance.
With Arsenal operating on topped-up confidence levels, the hosts seemed timid and unsure of themselves and when Ozil made it 2-0 after a great reverse pass from Rosicky, the scoreline was starting to reflect Arsenal’s dominance.
By halftime Brighton had not mustered a single effort on goal.
The second half seemed as if it would continue in the same vein but after five minutes Brighton got their breakthrough.
A terrible call from Michael Oliver and his linesman ignored a clear offside and as the ball went back in, after a foul on Chambers, the Arsenal defending left a lot to be desired. Brighton had scored with what was their first real chance, a habit Arsenal have tried to shake many times in the past but stubbornly refuses to leave.
At that point, however, there seemed to be no sense of panic in either the team or the fans and the two-goal lead was restored not long after.
Rosicky, winning the ball back on the edge of the Brighton box, played his third ‘look-away’ pass of the day. The ball made it out to Olivier Giroud who lifted it beautifully back to captain for the day, who lashed home an unstoppable volley from the edge of the box.
3-1 and that should have been that.
But, of course, this is Arsenal so it wan’t.
Arsenal allowed Brighton to close the gap once again and, predictably, it was some poor defending that gifted them the chance.
Parting the Arsenal backline, the Brighton frontman was clean through and as Szczesny came rushing out and getting lower as he did, the ball was simply lifted over him and into the back of the net. Szczesny didn’t have much to do, but when he was called upon he performed like a keeper shorn of confidence.
Now it was nervy.
Arsenal made changes, bringing on Alexis Sanchez and Chuba Akpom for Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud as Brighton looked to try and grab a replay at the very least.
Francis Coquelin was introduced in place of Ozil and Arsenal became content to sit back and try to hit their hosts on the break.
Coming close a few times to finally putting the game to bed, Alexis Sanchez’s freekick which was deflected onto the top of the bar and another, that was won by the lively Akpom, was expertly saved by the Brighton keeper were the closest Arsenal came.
As the final whistle went it was left to fans to wonder how the had game ended up the way it did.
By far the better team, Arsenal dominated for the majority of the match but still found a way to leave the door more than a little ajar for Brighton.
Playing a leftback in the centre of the defence is never ideal and, hopefully, with the arrival of Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal, that won’t now be the only option open to Wenger when he wants to rest one of his first choice centrebacks.
The final score is certainly not an accurate reflection of the game but it is indicative of an Arsenal side who still have some demons in their closest which haven’t quite been exorcised despite four cleansheets in their previous four games.
But, on a weekend when the big boys fell, Arsenal are still very much still in the running.
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