Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Maitland-Niles, The Jeff, Lucas, Walcott, Welbeck
Subs: Martinez, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Iwobi, Alexis
Theo Walcott grabbed a hat-trick and Danny Welbeck netted a brace as Arsenal eased their way into the FA Cup fifth round with an impressive 5-0 win away at Southampton.
The Gunners raced into a 2-0 lead inside 22 minutes courtesy of Welbeck’s clinical brace before his England colleague got in on the act. Walcott’s treble takes him to 99 goals in Arsenal colours and came courtesy of three neat finishes after some exhilarating attacking play.
Arsenal’s mix-and-match side were quick out of the traps with the Jeff particularly influential. On three minutes the French youngster, playing in the centre of midfield, had an attempt deflected wide. Not long after he played a fine threaded pass to Lucas who flashed a dangerous ball across the box.
The Gunners’ tidy start bore fruit on 13 minutes as Danny Welbeck, making his first start since returning from injury, broke the deadlock. Lucas, fed the ball by Maitland-Niles, made the goal with a fantastic pass on the turn and the England international bearing down on goal had time to give the keeper the eyes before dinking the ball in off the bar. Danny enjoyed his moment by paying homage to the ‘Salt Bae’ meme that’s been doing the rounds. Possibly the most on point celebration since Thierry Henry’s ‘wassup’ moment of 2000. (1-0)
On 21 minutes Welbeck doubled the lead. The striker plucked a glorious long ball from the Ox out of the sky and with his second touch he slid the ball under Saints keeper Harry Lewis and just inside the post. The seasoning was out again as he wheeled away with glee. (2-0)
The home side were sparked into action and twice came close to reducing the deficit. In the space of two minutes we witnessed the good and the bad of David Ospina. First the Colombian went full ‘Mad Jens’ chasing a ball that he was never going to reach, and then he produced a fine acrobatic stop to deny Shane Long.
The chances kept coming for both sides. Mustafi should have headed home a third before the half hour mark but could only glance the Ox’s whipped free-kick wide. At the other end, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (yeah, I copy and pasted his name from Wikipedia) curled a free-kick just wide with Ospina flat–footed.
Arsenal were fizzing with energy up front and on 35 minutes helped themselves to a third with a flowing 16-pass move. Lucas slipped in Welbeck who, having reached the touchline, had no option but to pull the ball back. A hungry Walcott slid the ball home. Up in the stands, Arsene Wenger was a very happy bunny. (3-0)
Welbeck’s pace and power continued to be a threat after the break. Cutting in off the left he looked to curl into the top corner; a deflection took the effort wide. Another penetrating dribble freed Lucas who teed up Bellerin who shot straight at the keeper.
Just past the hour mark the Welbeck was withdrawn from proceedings; he received a well-deserved standing ovation from the travelling fans.
Alexis came on in his place and promptly grabbed an assist. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was heavily involved in the build up again and the Chilean from the by-line picked out Walcott who steered home for his second. (4-0)
Ospina seemed desperate to toy with both the Southampton attackers and the emotions of all Gooners by repeatedly dallying on the ball whenever it was played back to him. It was tough to tell if he really backed himself or was just being horrifically indecisive. Given the scoreline, it didn’t really matter.
For the most part the home side were reduced to speculative efforts from long range. When they did make it into the box the impressive Maitland-Niles mopped up. His willingness to stay on his feet will have pleased the boss, especially in light of Granit Xhaka’s recent indiscretions.
Walcott grabbed his hat-trick on 84 minutes to round off a fantastic afternoon. Alexis Sanchez waited patiently for the attacker to join him in the Saints box and he promptly sidefooted home first time. (5-0)
Lucas, who had a very good game, might have got on the scoresheet himself only for Lewis’ legs to deny him right at the death.
So onwards we march. A very encouraging afternoon all round. Well done to Steve Bould on the bench – he must think this managerial lark is easy.