Feb 20th, 2017 by 'holic
Arsene Wenger’s mix and match selection was a good mix of youth and experience, it appeared, ahead of the match at Gander Green Lane. In front of David Ospina a back four of Gabriel, Skhodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Nacho Monreal, were backed up on the bench by Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, and Kieran Gibbs. Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka were in behind a creative trio of Theo Walcott, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, and Alex Iwobi. Just for good measure Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were substitutes along with Alexis, displaced by Lucas in the first eleven.
Both sides started cautiously and the first moment of ‘excitement’ was created by a pitch invader eleven minutes in. Why, when you are one of the holders of the 5000 hottest tickets in town, would you ensure your ejection and the waste of a space in the ground? A quarter of an hour passed before Elneny launched a conversion attempt far over the crossbar. There followed a shocking dive by former Gunner Craig Eastmond. Disappointing but not surprising to see that. Michael Oliver was not fooled.
Roarie Deacon, another former Gunner, enjoyed the opening quarter of the match and caused both Arsenal full-backs some nervous moments. As the clock ticked over 23 minutes Xhaka was awarded a yellow card for his first foul of the contest when he held Eastmond back. He does appear to be a marked man by the PGMOL officials. Arsenal grabbed the lead when Xhaka sent Lucas scurrying down the right flank. He cut in and sent a cross towards Walcott, who completely missed his attempted backheel, and the ball curled inside the far post.
Sutton United 0-1 Arsenal
A scramble ensued when Monreal was denied by the goalkeeper but Iwobi was unable to tee up anyone in the chaos that followed the ball not going out of play. Moments later Walcott did connect with a drive from outside the box that missed the target by some distance and nestled in the back of the home end. Collins challenge on Iwobi was ‘interesting’ in the light of the Xhaka booking. The non-award of a free-kick raised eyebrows. Man and ball was a great challenge many moons ago, but today? Of course Alan Shearer laughed it off and mocked Martin Keown for considering it a foul.
Just over five minutes before the break Reine-Adelaide found himself the covering right-back and was forced to take a yellow card for the team when Deacon threatened to break clear. The resulting free-kick was rapidly taken to the other end by Walcott, and Iwobi’s effort was deflected just past the post. Sutton were all but gifted a response when Ospina’s careless clearance presented May with a free shot which he sliced into the rough wide of the near post.
Elneny, who looked to have picked up a calf problem in the first-half, did not reappear after the break and Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced. The National League side started the half enthusiastically pressing across the pitch but the Gunners did quickly adjust to the increased pace of the game. With both sides careless in possession Sutton coach Ian Baird, once of Southampton, screamed “for flips sake get ‘old of the flipping ball”, or words to that effect. The beauty of a small venue!
Gomis created panic in the Arsenal box and the Gunners had Oxlade-Chamberlain to thank for bringing the ball out of danger. The feeling that we needed the cushion of a second goal was growing. It came courtesy of a wonderfully intricate exchange around the box and ended with Walcott sweeping Monreal’s cross in at the far post with his left foot.
Sutton United 0-2 Arsenal
Chances were traded but both goalkeepers were able to deny first Biamou for Sutton, then Lucas for the Arsenal. Monreal had to be at his best to head a dangerous looking Deacon cross away for a corner which Collins head narrowly over. Sutton, and their supporters, were lifted by the moment. Just short of 65 minutes Deacon’s 25 yard pile-driver crashed back into play off the crossbar. Bigger clubs are sniffing around him, and you can see why.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s scintillating break over half of the pitch came to nought when he failed to pick out the three unmarked Gunners in the box. Spence responded with a cross that brought an excellent punch clear from Ospina. This tie was still very much alive with twenty minutes to play. Sutton sent Hudson-Odoi on for the luckless May. The Gunners went for the double substitution of Alexis and Maitland-Niles for Reine-Adelaide and Iwobi.
Holding had to be alert to clear when Oxlade-Chamberlain had his pocket picked by Gomis. Some of the Sutton lads may have started to tire at this point but Gomis was not one of them. The Ox attempted to make amends but Worner managed to parry his goal bound effort.
Collins took a kick at the stricken Alexis then pushed him over as he attempted to get up. I wonder what Xhaka thought of him getting away with a quick word of warning by the inconsistent Oliver. The fact that he is the finest the PGMOL have at the moment is telling.
As the clock ticked down Xhaka’s long range effort was deflected to Oxlade-Chamberlain, sadly off target with his snapshot. Martin Keown, perhaps unsurprisingly, praised Arsenal’s approach to a potential banana skin. We should also pay tribute to Sutton who were far from disgraced on the evening. Their passage to the fifth round was a thrilling ride for them and their supporters, and the two Football League scalps they claimed along the way will not be forgotten for a long time.
All in all, a very satisfying evening. Bring on Lincoln.