By Richard Clarke
It took a five-minute turnaround at West Ham on Sunday to send Arsenal into the FA Cup Fourth Round.
Arsène Wenger's side struggled for the first hour at Upton Park and trailed to Alessandro Diamanti's breakaway goal on the stroke of half time.
It looked like Arsenal might be following Manchester United out of the FA Cup at the first opportunity.
However, with 12 minutes left, Aaron Ramsey added to his blossoming reputation with a fine strike on the turn. Five minutes later, Eduardo steered a perfectly-placed header into the top corner.
The comeback has been sparked by the introduction of Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby in the 65th minute. Before that, Wenger's much-changed side had struggled to impose themselves on an equally-altered West Ham outfit.
It made for an unedifying spectacle and the only true quality was crammed into the final 15 minutes.
Still, at full time, the Arsenal fans sang loud and long while Wenger punched the air.
Both clearly still value the FA Cup.
With two crucial Premier League games coming up, the Frenchman had promised sweeping changes. Certainly his team selection smacked of protectionism.
Manuel Almunia, Armand Traore, Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby all dropped out. Meanwhile the absence of Philippe Senderos from the squad suggested the Swiss defender had failed that pre-match fitness test on his injury foot. As a result, Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas resumed their partnership at centre-back.
The incoming players were Lukasz Fabianski, Carlos Vela, Fran Merida, Mikael Silvestre and Jack Wilshere.
It may have been bitterly cold at Upton Park but the portents for this game were good. A shockless Saturday had already been blown apart by Manchester United's defeat to Leeds earlier on Sunday. Meanwhile the last meeting between the two sides in this competition - an FA Cup Sixth Round replay in March 1998 - had been a thriller.
However the first half this afternoon could not have brought a greater contrast.
In fairness both sides had major changes but neither settled in the opening quarter. In truth there was little to report except for Merida's tame shot in the 10th minute.
Gradually Arsenal exerted their authority. The visitors enjoyed the greater territory and possession but could do precious little with it.
In the 16th minute, Ramsey's shot deflected over off Matthew Upson and then Vela's drive did likewise. Arsenal got the in the right position on a number of occasions but, too often, their delivery let them down.
Gradually West Ham made their presence felt. In the 25th minute Junior Stanislas whipped a free-kick just over the bar and then Fabianski acrobatically tipped Diamanti's cross away from Luis Jimenez.
Just before the half-hour, Ramsey and Wilshere worked a short corner. Robert Green tipped the former's cross away from Song at the back post. However the ball fell to Vermaelen, who blazed over when he should have hit the target.
But that was a rare highlight. To be honest, it was a poor half with neither side enjoying any type of fluency.
Even the opening goal was scrappy. In the first minute of injury time Radoslav Kovac steered a ball towards Diamanti in the centre. Arsenal pushed up for offside but the Italian had just stayed legal.
He went one-on-one with Fabianski but the Polish keeper guessed correctly. He got a hand on Diamanti's shot but could not prevent it trickling inside the post.
Not surprisingly the home side came out fired up for the second half. Frank Nouble spanked a shot wide and then Stanislas forced a flying save from Fabianski.
Arsenal were still sluggish. In the 53rd minute, Eduardo's swivelling shot was deflected over the bar by Upson but that was the extent of their opportunities in the opening quarter of the second half.
In fact West Ham now seemed the side more likely to score. Had the home side been blessed with a more experienced strikeforce this afternoon, they might have extended their lead.
In the 65th minute, Wenger made changes. Nasri and Diaby came on for Merida and Wilshere.
It had an immediate effect. Seven minutes later, Diaby and Song combined nicely in the left-hand channel. Both of them drew excellent saves from Green.
Shortly afterwards, Nasri hacked a shot over the bar. A horrible finish but at least Arsenal were imposing themselves now.
Twelve minutes from time, they equalised. Song, who was Arsenal's best player on the day, fed Vela in the area. The Mexican nudged the ball to Ramsey who fired a shot into the far corner.
Against the odds Arsenal were back in it. Then, five minutes later, they won it.
Vela sent over a teasing cross from the left-hand side and Eduardo stole in front of his marker to arc a header into the top corner of the net beyond Green's despairing dive.
Shortly afterwards Song rifled an effort over the bar and Eduardo nodded wide.
The visitors had gone 80 per cent of the game creating little but now they were manufacturing chances galore.
Vela, who had assisted for both goals, was next to try his luck. However his low drive was booted off the line with Green beaten.
At full time, the Arsenal fans had found a new hero. They chanted the name of Ramsey. Along with Song, the Welshman had been the visitors' best player on the day.
While Arsenal's performance had been patchy both deserved to be on the winning side this afternoon.
And, more importantly, Wenger's men continue revel in their winning habit.
- Silvestre (C)
- Song Yellow Card
- Merida 65
- Wilshere 65
- Ramsey Goal!
- Eduardo Goal!
- Nasri 65
- Diaby 65
West Ham United
- Daprela Yellow Card
- Upson (C)
- Nouble 78
- Stanislas 87
- Diamanti Goal!
- Edgar 87
- Sears 78