Jack Wilshere struck four minutes from time as Arsenal edged out Swansea to reach the FA Cup fourth round.
While the scoreline was tight, the game was one-sided. The midfielder converted his side’s 26th goalscoring opportunity on the night as Arsène Wenger’s side set themselves up for a mouthwatering tie at Brighton in 10 days’ time.
In fairness, Swansea had chances in the first half but, after the break, they were overrun with Theo Walcott hitting the woodwork and then Oliver Giroud seeing a shot blocked on the line by Wilshere. The outstanding midfielder utterly deserved his goal but we could have done without the nail-biting anxiety.
Still the home side came good in the end and, just as importantly, this performance had the hallmarks of the dominant Arsenal sides of old.
Roll on the fourth round.
"The outstanding midfielder utterly deserved his goal but we could have done without the nail-biting anxiety"
Wenger made three changes from the side beaten by Manchester City on Sunday, Arsenal’s first Premier League defeat since the visitors this evening had triumphed at the start of December.
Per Mertesacker replaced the suspended Laurent Koscielny. The other changes - Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud for Lukasz Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - were not enforced but they did elicit positional changes. Santi Cazorla went out to the left and Walcott moved to the right.
It was an inhospitably cold night in north London but the 2-2 draw in Wales had promised much for the return rubber.
And it would deliver early on.
As in the first game, Michael Laudrup left a couple of key players on the bench - including top scorer Michu. His replacement Danny Graham had the first opportunity but slashed his effort well wide.
Arsenal came back immediately. It set the pattern for the first half. This lively game would ebb one way and then flow the other. The home side edged it territorially but Swansea had the better chances.
After five minutes, Walcott set up Giroud to head over and then the Frenchman fired wide.
But, on the quarter-hour, Dwight Tiendalli raced down the left and set up Nathan Dyer but the sliding Thomas Vermaelen flew in to dispossess him in the nick of time.
Arsenal had a flurry of chances. Diaby’s effort was blocked, Vermaelen free-kick flew just over the bar and, from the resulting corner, Coquelin’s low drive was saved by Vorm.
But Swansea retorted with closest effort of the half.In the 26th minute, Wayne Routledge floated a delicate ball into the area and Kyle Bartley rose above the Arsenal defence to glance a header against the bar.
More Arsenal pressure followed but, again, Swansea would create an open opportunity. Kemy Agustien slid a ball through the middle to the dangerous Dyer. His effort was deflected high over the bar but the visitors were once again trumpeting their attacking intent.
But having ‘see-d’ temporarily, the game ‘saw-d’ once again. Wilshere danced his way through and, though he was tackled, the ball fell to Walcott on the right of the area. His goalbound shot was charged down.
With the final kick, Walcott’s corner flew to Vermaelen but Michel Vorm saved with his legs.
The half ended as it had been throughout - lively, even and entertaining. At that point it seemed the two teams could not and would not be parted.
"Arsenal really should have won the game in this period and only pure, unfettered ill-fortune prevented them doing it"
The decisive goal nearly came five minutes into the second half when Diaby’s excellent, raking through ball sent Walcott sprinting clear despite the close attention of Chico Flores.
He was buffeted by the defender but stayed on his feet. The striker’s clipped shot drifted wide.
Cazorla and Giroud then went close with a rising drive and inquisitive cross-shot respectively.
Arsenal had clearly come out with the intention of grabbing the initiative.
In the five minutes that followed they really should have taken hold. Wilshere breezed through and poked a shot wide. On the hour he did it again but, this time, Vorm palmed his shot into the air and Walcott’s follow-up was chested off the line by Graham.
Seconds later, Giroud’s header was headed away from the far post by Leon Britton.
It was all Arsenal. They were pouring forward at will.
Giroud thumped a ball into Vorm’s chest, Walcott’s slipped a shot wide of the far post, Sagna battered the ball just over the bar.
Still it was a cup tie and Swansea’s intent was illustrated but the introduction of Michu with 20 minutes left.
For the first time in the second period, they started to create gain traction in the Arsenal half. Substitute Sung-Yeung Ki forced Wojciech Szczesny, a second-half spectator, into a sprawling save. Flores headed the corner into the sidenetting.
Extra time was now looming and any breakthrough seemed likely to be decisive.
Arsenal really should have won the game in this period and only pure, unfettered ill-fortune prevented them doing it. Walcott ghosted a headed against the far post then Giroud’s thunderous shot hit Wilshere on the line.
Frankly it did not seem to be Arsenal’s night. They had battered and battered and battered at the Swansea defence only to be denied pretty much anything available - wood or flesh.
Then, with five minutes left, they scored.
Cazorla’s nudge and Giroud’s flick to set up Wilshere’s piledriver from juast outside the area.
Vorm was beaten, Emirates erupted.
It was nothing more than Arsenal deserved but, as Wenger says, they have not always got that this season.
But this evening they performed, this evening they were determined… and this evening they went through.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
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