By Chris Harris at Deepdale
Olivier Giroud was the man of the moment yet again with a late strike to take us into the fourth round of the cup.
Preston were quicker out of the blocks and deservedly took the lead when Callum Robinson pounced on a loose ball following fine work from Aiden McGeady.
But we righted the wrongs of a below-par first-half display, Aaron Ramsey lashing a shot into the top corner just 50 seconds after the restart.
It looked like we’d need a replay back at the Emirates but Giroud - captaining the side for the first time - stepped up at the end to convert Lucas' backheel.
The France striker has now scored four times in the final four minutes of fixtures this season to salvage some sticky situations.
Thanks to Giroud this rollicking third-round tie had a happy ending after its horror start.
And there was further good news - Danny Welbeck making his return after eight months out.
SETTING THE SCENE
Twenty campaigns, six trophies and the competition’s two longest winning runs.
Arsène Wenger has a happy history in the FA Cup and he returned to Deepdale 17 years after a 4-2 win crowned by two goals from Emmanuel Petit. Despite all the time that’s passed, the manager still hadn’t lost a third-round tie.
That proud record would be under examination by a Preston side that sits mid-table in the Championship but had nothing to lose.
As ever, Wenger faced the difficult balancing act of resting the players who needed it most while putting out a side that could win the game. Out went Alexis, Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny and the injured Francis Coquelin. In came Ainsley Maitland-Niles, David Ospina, Gabriel, Lucas and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Giroud, fresh from a week that delivered a scorpion kick, two assists and a late equaliser, led the team out.
Our proud third-round record was under threat as early as the seventh minute.
That’s as long as it took for the influential McGeady to cleverly turn away from a challenge and slide a pass towards Jordan Hugill. The ball ricocheted off him and rolled invitingly for Robinson to sweep past Ospina.
Lucas had a shot blocked but the momentum stayed with Preston. Keeping their shape when we had the ball, they sprang out on the counter at every opportunity, led by the cultured McGeady and the pacy Robinson.
Ospina just beat Hugill to one McGeady cross before Robinson had a header blocked from point-blank range. Robinson beat the offside trap only for his cross to elude Hugill, then Ben Pearson tested Ospina from range.
We got better. Lucas tested Chris Maxwell following a neat interchange with Giroud, and did so again with a firm header from Maitland-Niles’ right-wing cross. Then Ramsey plotted a path through the Preston defence but couldn’t get a shot away.
It was more encouraging, but Nacho Monreal came to our rescue when Paul Gallagher lobbed Ospina - a sign that Preston weren’t about to go into their shells.
We trailed by two goals and won here in 1999. This time a half-time deficit was snuffed out in just 50 seconds.
We were on our game immediately and worked the ball wide to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. His cross eventually reached Alex Iwobi, who kept the move alive with clever footwork before teeing up Ramsey for a venomous finish from the edge of the box.
It was Ramsey’s first goal of the season and it transformed the mood inside the ground. Now it was the 6,000 travelling fans making most of the noise.
Our tails were up. Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain had shots blocked. Then Giroud got on the end of Granit Xhaka’s free-kick, but couldn’t get enough purchase on his header to seriously test Maxwell.
The Preston keeper was seriously tested by Shkodran Mustafi, flinging up an arm to keep out his first-time effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner.
Welbeck came off the bench and almost scored in spectacular fashion. But Giroud had already had the last word - yet again - when he converted Lucas' backheel.
- Gabriel Yellow Card
- Maitland-Niles 90
- Lucas 90
- Ramsey Goal!
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 83
- Giroud (C) Goal!
- Holding 90
- Da Silva
- Reine Adelaide 90
- Welbeck 83
Preston North End
- Cunningham Yellow Card
- Clarke (C)
- Johnson 80
- Gallagher 59
- Hugill 75 Yellow Card
- Robinson Goal!
- Makienok 75
- Browne 59
- Horgan 80