Starting XI: Ospina, Gabriel, Mustafi, Holding, Monreal, Xhaka, Elneny, Jeff, Iwobi, Lucas, Walcott
Subs: Martinez, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis
Theo Walcott’s 100th goal for Arsenal helped the Gunners to a 2-0 win against a spirited Sutton United of the National League.
Lucas Perez opened the scoring in the first half at Gander Green Lane as Arsene Wenger’s men set up a quarter-final tie with fellow non-leaguers Lincoln City.
Trying to get used to Sutton’s ‘wet’ 3G pitch Arsenal started conservatively. The men in red had plenty of possession, stroking the ball around the pitch, but without any real pace. Some of the interplay, particularly between Nacho Monreal and Alex Iwobi, was sloppy and that, combined with the fervent support gathered at Gander Green Lane, buoyed Sutton who grew into the game.
The home side, as you might expect, lumped a fair few long balls at Ospina’s penalty box and when the ball fell free in midfield they weren’t shy to stick their foot in. Ex-Gunner Roarie Deacon’s pace was eye-catching but aside from a chance gifted by David Ospina to Adam May just before the break they rarely looked like scoring. After his wayward pass to the edge of the area the Colombian copped an earful from the 750 Gooners behind his goal who’d been lucky enough to secure tickets.
Arsenal’s goal came on 26 minutes and was our first effort on target. Slick play by Alex Iwobi and Granit Xhaka freed Lucas on the right wing and the Spaniard cut inside to whip a dangerous ball with his left foot across the six-yard box. Theo Walcott’s darting run and attempted back-heel confused keeper Ross Worner and the ball rolled straight in. The celebrations were muted. (1-0)
Theo Walcott, captain for the evening, threatened a couple of minutes later with a shot just over the bar and Nacho Monreal might have done better when he was put through on goal. In fairness, though a second goal would have been harsh on the hosts.
Mohamed Elneny, who had required treatment on his calf in the first half, was withdrawn at the break and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on in his place.
Ten minutes after the break Theo Walcott doubled our lead. Lucas, Iwobi and Monreal combined down the left and Walcott tucked home the left-back’s cross with a composed strike at the back post. The goal brought up the England international’s century in Arsenal colours. You’d have excused him a celebration with a little more gusto but he was satisfied by a couple of high-fives. (2-0)
105 places currently separate the two sides in English football’s ladder but Sutton gave as good as they got. Ospina made his first save of the night to stop a daisy-cutter, Monreal had to head over a dangerous cross just over the bar and Jamie Collins, the home side’s thick-bodied captain, should have headed in the resulting corner.
Arsenal rode the mini-onslaught but if they needed a reminder of the dangers posed by Paul Doswell’s side it came in the form of a rocket shot from Deacon that pinged off the bar on 65 minutes.
Oxlade-Chamberlain embarked on a swashbuckling run that should have resulted in a tap in for Walcott, however, he overcooked the pass much to the frustration of Wenger on the bench.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alexis Sanchez replaced the Jeff and Iwobi for the final 17 minutes. You sensed the appearance of the Chilean was a tip of the cap to the local crowd who’ll forever be able to say they saw a two-time Copa America star strut his stuff on their home ‘turf’. “Give it to Sanchez” sang the travelling support.
The Gunners half-heartedly went in search of a third. Chamberlain forced a save from Warner and Sanchez dinked a chip just over. On the Sutton bench, ‘roly-poly’ reserve team keeper Wayne Shaw tucked into a pie (no really!) as he enjoyed the action. It later transpired it was probably a marketing stunt. True or not, it was an image that summed up a surreal night; one that seemed to be enjoyed by all.