By Richard Clarke at the Matchroom Stadium
It seems that Arsenal like doing it the hard way in the FA Cup.
An 88th-minute equaliser from substitute Jonathan Tehoue means they must replay Leyton Orient at Emirates Stadium next month for the right to take on Manchester United in the Sixth Round.
The goal provided a stirring end to a game that, in truth, struggled to catch fire.
Arsène Wenger’s much-changed side dominated the first half but had to wait until the 53rd minute to break the deadlock when Tomas Rosicky scored with a well-placed header from Nicklas Bendtner’s cross.
Before that, Arsenal had enjoyed massive advantages in terms of territory and possession but had struggled to break down a resolute Orient defence.
The goal forced the home side to attack, with Tehoue coming off the bench to add a crucial cutting edge.
Arsenal should have killed this game yet now they must do it all again.
But they are still in the FA Cup.
Wenger made 10 changes from the side that had come from behind to beat Barcelona in midweek. Alex Song was the only constant. However, the entire bench had been on parade against the Spanish champions.
Ignasi Miquel came in for his debut at centre back alongside Sebastien Squillaci. They were flanked by Bacary Sagna, who was returning from suspension, and Kieran Gibbs. Denilson and Rosicky joined Song in central midfield, Bendtner and Andrey Arshavin were on the wings while Marouane Chamakh was the spearhead striker.
Orient had three ex-Arsenal players in their line-up. Ben Chorley at centre back, Jason Crowe in central midfield and keeper Lee Butcher on the bench.
Just before kick-off, news of the Sixth Round draw filtered through. The prospect of Manchester United was one mighty carrot of course but this tie still had all the ingredients of a shock.
The vast majority of the talent was in the Arsenal team but the crowd, the pitch and weather would be against them this Sunday.
It would be a test.
Despite that, the visitors settled well. In the opening minutes, Arshavin crossed for Chamakh to arc a header into the hands of Orient keeper Jamie Jones. Then Bendtner slashed a shot wide from range.
In the 16th minute, Stephen Dawson rifled a shot inches over the bar. It was a chance out of nothing really and would turn out to be the home side's best opportunity of the opening period. Arsenal were on top and it would stay that way.
However, while they had an advantage in terms of possession and territory, there were precious few chances. Chamakh’s shot was easily saved by Jones and then the keeper spilled a snapshot from Arshavin but his defence managed to mop up the danger.
As the half went on, Arsenal only dominated more and more. Nine minutes from the break, a lengthy spell of possession ended with Arshavin finding Gibbs on the left on the area. His cross was prodded wide by Chamakh six yards out.
It was difficult to know how to feel at the break. Arsenal had bossed the game but had not tested Jones anywhere near enough. Depending your viewpoint it was professional or wasteful.
A goal would change everything. It arrived eight minutes after the restart. As he had so often in this game, Bendtner tried to dribble through the massed ranks of the Orient defence and was repelled.
This time, the Dane was pushed to the right of the area. He crossed towards Rosicky 12 yards out. The Czech international guided a header into the far corner. It was his first strike for Arsenal since January 2010.
The goal forced Orient to alter their tactics. At 0-0 they had been happy to stay in their defensive shell. Having gone behind, they had to come out.
Orient manager Russell Slade made his intentions clear by swapping strikers. The tiring Scott McGleish came off, Tehoue came on.
However just after the change, Arsenal should have killed the game. Arshavin’s tenacity took him to the byline. The Russian cut the ball back for Rosicky, whose first-time volley was turned aside brilliantly by Jones at the near post.
Tehoue roared down the right and Revell swept a shot just wide by way of response.
The introduction of the Frenchman had injected a cutting edge into Orient for the first time and, eight minutes from time, he broke down the right once more and cut back an inviting ball for Revell once again. The striker’s contact was forceful and goal-bound but hit Squillaci square in the face – not on the hand as the home crowd had insisted.
Tehoue had changed the tie so if Orient were to score then he was going to either create or convert. In the end he did both.
In the 87th minute, the Frenchman darted between two Arsenal defenders and sent a thunderous shot under the body of Almunia.
The Matchroom Stadium erupted.
Arshavin and Rosicky tried to rescue the victory for the visitors.
But it would not come.
This was a missed opportunity for Wenger’s team.
- Denilson Yellow Card
- Rosicky Goal!
- Whing Yellow Card
- Crowe 46
- McGleish 61
- Revell 82
- Tehoue 61 Goal!
- M'Poku 82
- Carroll 46