Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini, Walcott, Ramsey, Ozil, Rosicky, Giroud
Subs: Martinez, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Akpom
Tomas Rosicky starred as Arsenal continued their defence of the FA Cup with a tense 3-2 victory away at Brighton. Theo Walcott scored his first goal of the season to give the Gunners an early lead, before the Czech international assisted Mesut Ozil and rifled home a volley either side of Chris O’Grady’s early second half strike. Sam Baldock’s strike on 75 minutes gave the Seagulls a sniff of a draw but the Gunners held out to seal safe passage to the Fifth Round.
Arsene Wenger made seven changes to the side that beat Manchester City last weekend. Wojciech Szczesny was handed a first start since his ‘exploits’ at Southampton, a clear sign he’s now playing second fiddle to David Ospina, while Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal formed a centre-back partnership flanked by Calum Chambers on the right and Kieran Gibbs on the left. Mathieu Flamini anchored the midfield in place of the rested Francis Coquelin with Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey in front of him. Olivier Giroud spearheaded the attack with Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil also getting valuable game time. Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Alexis provided the experience on the bench.
Arsene Wenger’s defending champions couldn’t have made a better start at the AMEX Arena taking the lead inside two minutes. After a period of prolonged possession from kick-off Chambers bound down the right wing, picked out Walcott who took one touch to control the ball before hammering a vicious low effort across Brighton keeper Stockdale to open his account for the season. (1-0)
The Gunners kept the pressure up. Ramsey had an effort deflected wide three minutes later and from the resulting corner Giroud’s header was blocked on the line. The movement in the final third was mesmerising. As was the willingness to track the ball down when the home side had it.
Theo Walcott looked dangerous on the break, but was erratic on the ball. On 20 minutes he had a great chance to feed Rosicky after stealing the ball only for the ball to get caught up under his feet. It was the only time it happened. The Czech fired his teammate a look of utter disdain. Thankfully, though the veteran took his frustration out on Brighton.
First he had a shot that bundled wide then, on 22 minutes, he produced an absolutely stunning defence-splitting ball that freed Ozil inside the box. The German controlled the ball seven yards out and calmly slotted home to double Arsenal’s lead. It was his first goal since September’s visit to Aston Villa and he was quick to acknowledge the brilliance of Rosicky’s assist. . (2-0)
Brighton did have a chance to reduce the deficit before the half hour mark only for Sam Baldock to make a hash of a good chance from close range. It was the Seagull’s only real opportunity in an opening 45 minutes that was totally dominated by the men in yellow.
Arsenal should have extended their lead just after the break when fine interplay by Giroud, Ozil and Ramsey saw Theo Walcott given the perfect opportunity to kill the game on the volley. The England international fluffed his lines as he burst into the box. He didn’t even get a shot off.
Buoyed by the let off Brighton promptly went up the other end and scored. Rosicky made a hash of a clearance, Chambers lost a header and neither Flamini nor Koscielny could stop Chris O’Grady’s low shot sneaking in at Szczesny’s near post. (2-1)
The goal brought the home fans to their feet, the noise around the AMEX rose to a crescendo and Chris Hughton’s men responded on the pitch with five minutes of intense pressure. The optimism didn’t last long as Tomas Rosicky nipped the recovery in the bud.
Stealing the ball high up the pitch the 34-year-old fed Giroud and then stole to the edge of the area where he lashed home a glorious volley from the Frenchman’s dinked return pass. It was an awesome strike from a player who really caught the eye on the day. (3-1)
With 20 minutes remaining Giroud and Walcott were replaced by Chuba Akpom and Alexis Sanchez. To Brighton’s credit they kept plugging away and they again reduced the deficit with 15 minutes remaining. Monreal and Koscielny were left all at sea as Baldock stole in behind to chip Szczesny. (3-2)
Arsene Wenger’s reaction was to sure things up by replacing Ozil with Francis Coquelin. The plan was obviously to sit deep and then counter. It nearly worked as Akpom had a low effort parried away after a break by Sanchez.
The all-energy Chilean took a endured a regular kicking during his short cameo as his manic movement caused havoc in the Brighton defence. His first free-kick clipped the top of the bar via a deflection. A second set piece in stoppage time forced another decent save from Stockdale, a third went over the bar. Aaron Ramsey should have sealed the game with the last kick of the game but his volley bounced into the ground and out of play.
Just as it did two seasons ago it ended 3-2 and we progress to the next round knowing most of our rivals are already out. A fine weekend.