Following a Saturday of shock after shock after shock, Gooners everywhere could have been forgiven for fearing the worst ahead of Sunday’s trip to Brighton.
Before I go any further with my view on Sunday afternoon’s match, let’s take a moment to bask in that magic minute when Jeff Stelling announced the arrival of both Middlesbrough’s second at the Eastlands and then Bradford City’s 4th goal at Stamford Bridge… ahhhhhhhhhhh!
How does that feel? Pretty great, right?
Okay, let’s on with it.
Obviously, fun as Saturday was, it did kind of sharpen minds ahead of the 4pm kick off on Sunday.
Chelsea, City and Spurs are all gone and United and Liverpool face replays (not, I imagine, that a home game with Cambridge United will be keeping Mr Van Gaal up at night).
It’s hard not to feel that the door of opportunity may be inching open for Arsenal to retain the trophy they won last May. I say “inching”, there’s another two games to play- hopefully- before we even get to the Semi Final.
As we saw on Saturday, nothing can be taken for granted in this sport. As if Arsenal need reminding *cough* Blackburn*cough*!
There have been no such accusations directed at the Gunners in this round.
Despite seven changes to the team which won so well at Eastlands last week, Arsenal were in full control from the first whistle. They were helped by a goal made in Southampton, an expert touch from Calum Chambers right wing cross and Theo had rifled the ball into the bottom corner for his first goal in over a year after just 89 seconds.
Talk about a crowd killer.
With the cushion of the early goal, and Tomas Rosicky in imperious form, the Arsenal were free to play the game at their own pace.
In fact, the first half largely resembled a training match and had Theo Walcott’s decision making been as clinical as his finishing, we might have been out of sight by half time.
As it was, the only addition to the scoreline was when Mesut Özil celebrated his return to the starting line up with a well taken goal from a laser guided Rosicky pass.
The game changed inside 30 seconds early in the second half.
A blistering Arsenal counter attack saw Theo trying to take a touch when perfectly set up to volley at goal.
Brighton promptly went down the other end of the pitch and, after some comedy which others may refer to as Arsenal defending (I didn’t see much evidence of it myself), Chris O’Grady fired the ball into the bottom corner of the unsighted Szczesny’s goal.
From total control to teetering.
Luckily for us, with half an hour left, the game’s stand out performer would ease any jitters the team might have felt. Winning the ball back after an Arsenal move broke down, he fed Giroud with his umpteenth no look pass of the day, Giroud chipped the return back and the Czech volleyed home our third of the day.
Could we now relax?
Yes, but only for 15 minutes. A ball through the heart of our defence was met by Sam Baldock’s run and he clipped over Szczesny to reduce the home team’s arrears.
Having already dispatched Alexis and Akpom, for Giroud and Walcott, Arsène sent on Coquelin for Özil to tie the result up. We might have made more of a couple of counters and an Alexis free kick was deflected onto the bar, but there was no further goals to be had in this game.
Job done, albeit in a slightly more harum scarum fashion then we might have liked, but I don’t think we can complain too much.
Actually, I don’t think we can complain at all, really.
You’re not going to get a free pass in the FA Cup, not away from home. That we were able to be comfortable for three quarters of the match is not to be sneezed at, particularly as we were able to rest the likes of Cazorla and Mertsesacker, rotating Alexis and co.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, it seems that Le Boss may, quietly, be building himself a bit of a formidable squad.
As I write this, I’ve just seen that the Home Office have okayed our deal for Villarreal’s Gabriel Paulista, so we now, or will soon, have our four centre backs in place- yes guys, four centre backs!
That sound you can hear is Laurent Koscielny’s Achilles tendons crying with relief.
One final point, I know we’re talking four months and four matches from now, but were Arsenal to retain the FA Cup, Arsene Wenger would enjoy the distinction of being the most successful manager in the modern history of the competition.
When you think back two years and to the accusations that he wasn’t taking the competition seriously, two FA Cups in two years would be a perfect response.
But, clearly, we’re a long way off that just yet.