Arsenal are out of the FA Cup.
Arsène Wenger’s men suffered a surprise defeat to Championship side Blackburn in Saturday’s fifth-round tie at Emirates Stadium.
Colin Kazim-Richards struck midway through the second half to inflict Arsenal’s first home defeat in this competition for 35 matches - a record going back to 1997 when Leeds had triumphed at Highbury. It was also Wenger’s first defeat to lower league opposition in the FA Cup.
The goal came just seconds after the manager had brought on Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott. Arsenal had been pretty pedestrian until then but in the last round such an injection had secured the tie.
"Blackburn had been humbled 7-1 on their last visit to the Emirates but this was the polar opposite of emotions"
In response to the goal, Arsenal threw everything at Blackburn in the final minutes but keeper Jake Kean pulled off a couple of crucial saves. When he was not on hand, the visitors managed to block with any limb available.
Blackburn had been humbled 7-1 on their last visit to the Emirates but this was the polar opposite of emotions.
It is a body blow to Arsenal but they must recover quickly as they have a massive week ahead.
Before kick-off, Wenger had suggested that the Premier League was his overall priority even though his immediate focus was the FA Cup.
However Tuesday’s Champions League tie saw the visit of the mighty Bayern Munich to Emirates Stadium. And that game seemed to loom large in the manager’s pre-match thinking.
There were seven changes in all. As against Brighton in the fourth round, Wilshere and Cazorla were left on the bench. They were joined by Walcott, Bacary Sagna and Lukas Podolski.
However the core of the side seemed strong enough. The most obvious signs of rotation saw Francis Coquelin come in at right back while Tomas Rosicky made only his third start of the season. Gervinho was back after his stint at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Blackburn had been well-beaten last time at Emirates Stadium but, as Wenger had admitted pre-match, the Championship side had nothing to lose. They named former Arsenal youngster David Bentley on the bench. He had been signed on loan on the eve of the game.
The visitors would have the first clear chance of the game after two minutes when Morten Gamst Pedersen threw over a free-kick and Markus Olsson slid an effort wide at the far post.
After that Arsenal, slowly but surely, took over for the remainder of the half.
Koscielny nodded an effort wide and Oxlade-Chamberlain made a menace of himself on a number of occasions. There was a small shout for a penalty when Rosicky’s cross appeared to hit the arm of Scott Dann.
But it took a couple of corners for Arsenal to really threaten.
In the 24th minute, Rosicky’s delivery was met by the rising Diaby. His bullet header was turned aside by Kean at point-blank range.
A couple of minutes later, Thomas Vermaelen’s looping header from another corner from the Czech international force the young keeper into frantic action.
It had been a hard and somewhat disjointed half for Arsenal but they nearly ended it in front.
A couple of minutes from the whistle, Rosicky nudged Gervinho clear. The Ivorian took a touch but dragged his shot wide. It was a massive chance and the Arsenal striker sunk to his knees in disappointment.
As a game, the first half had never risen above the mediocre.
The home side did their best to rouse themselves after the restart via Giroud’s header and Diaby’s flashing drive but Arsenal could not find that crucial first goal.
Meanwhile there were signs Blackburn were starting to develop their ambition. Most notably when Dann’s header was cleared off the line in the opening minutes of the half.
By the midway point of the second half, Arsenal were in need of inspiration.
In the end, Wenger was bold. It was a treble substitution - Walcott, Cazorla and Wilshere for Rosicky, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
When they were stripped and ready to go, Arsenal had three chances.
Rosicky cracked a swerving, long-range effort against the underside of the bar. Gervinho was denied by Grant Hanley’s sliding challenge. Finally, Diaby's long-range drive was held by Kean.
The introductions meant Arsenal had an entirely new '3' in their 4-2-3-1. And they were ready to take over.
But then they conceded.
Martin Olsson raced onto a flick on down the left and fired goalwards. Szczesny could only beat out the shot to Kazim-Richards and he returned a bobbling shot into the net off the inside of the post.
No-one had seen that coming.
As you might expect, Arsenal upped the tempo. Nacho Monreal fired wide and Cazorla let fly.
Kean made a strong block from Diaby’s drive towards the near post then, in the 88th minute, the keeper clutched Walcott’s point-blank header on the line.
In injury time, Wilshere drove to the byline and his cross found Giroud but the Frenchman’s goalbound shot was blocked at the near post. Arteta put the loose ball into the sidenetting on the far side.
Seconds later, the whistle went and Arsenal went out of the FA Cup for another year.
Referee: Mike Dean
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