Theo Walcott struck five minutes from time to win a pulsating FA Cup tie at Brighton on Saturday and send Arsenal into the fifth round.
The England international volleyed home a deflected shot as Arsène Wenger’s side deservedly took the spoils on the south-coast.
Twice they led through excellent goals from Olivier Giroud, twice they were pegged back through headers – by Ashley Barnes in the first half and Leonardo Ulloa on the hour.
However, the manager brought on his big guns to complete the victory and they ended the game much the stronger side.
"The manager brought on his big guns to complete the victory and they ended the game much the stronger side"
This was a thoroughly entertaining tie in which Arsenal showed character and guts. It could have positive knock-on effects in the Premier League too.
Roll on the next round.
Wenger’s changes were entirely understandable. January was set to be an eight-game month and, although he could do without a replay, the manager needed to rotate somehow, sometime.
There were six alterations from Wednesday’s win over West Ham. Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, Santi Cazorla, Walcott and Kieran Gibbs dropped to the bench. Thomas Vermaelen was injured.
Tomas Rosicky came back for his second start this season, meanwhile Andre Santos had not begun a game since the defeat to Manchester United on November 3. Abou Diaby, Carl Jenkinson, Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain completed the changes.
Brighton boss Gus Poyet also left a few starters from the draw at Blackburn in midweek on the bench. But the impetus and drive they displayed throughout the first half suggested this competition was a priority.
The pace was vibrant throughout the first 45 minutes even though chances were relatively scarce.
Neither keeper was tested to any extent early on but the game changed on the quarter-hour.
Wojciech Szczesny made a stunning point-blank save from Barnes’ spectacular effort and then the keeper collected the subsequent corner. He bowled the ball into the path of the free-running Rosicky immediately.
The Czech international and Podolski set up Giroud in the D. The Frenchman curled home a peach of a strike into the top corner. His 12th goal of an increasingly profitable season.
Ulloa slipped home what he thought was an equaliser on the half-hour but was flagged offside.
Three minutes later however, the Arsenal goal would be breached. Will Buckley played a short corner to David Lopez, whose curling cross was nodded home by Barnes from close range.
Brighton’s momentum was rather stifled by the loss of captain Gordon Greer through injury soon after. Gary Dicker came off the bench.
Arsenal rallied just before the whistle. Rosicky and Santos had shots from distance.
But at the break, the visitors had yet to stamp their authority on the game.
Jenkinson’s rasping drive was an indication of intent at the start of the second half.
In the 53rd minute, Adam El-Abd clipped Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski planted a firm free-kick against the bar.
"Diaby spotted Giroud traversing the area. The Frenchman found him with a clipped through ball. Giroud held off El-Abd and fired home from the edge of the six-yard box"
Three minutes later, Arsenal did grab their goal. Diaby spotted Giroud traversing the area. The Frenchman found him with a clipped through ball. Giroud held off El-Abd and fired home from the edge of the six-yard box.
Just past the hour, Arsenal might have taken a stranglehold when Rosicky’s raking ball sent the Frenchman through again. The strength of the Giroud allowed him a clear sight of goal but Casper Ankergren pulled off a fine save from point-blank range.
But again Brighton would respond. In the 63rd minute, Barnes’ excellent cross found Ulloa drifting inbetween the Arsenal defenders. He bundled home a diving header from five yards.
With 22 minutes left, Wenger brought on his major players – Walcott and Wilshere for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky.
The Arsenal manager was going for it.
His side stepped up the pressure immediately. Giroud’s shot bounced over and a free-kick flew narrowly off target. Substitute Kieran Gibbs set up the Frenchman for an overhead kick that was deflected wide.
A couple of corners later, Ankergren punched the ball out to Walcott, whose volley was deflected home off El-Abd.
Brighton created a skirmish of two at the end but nothing more concrete than Craig Maikell-Smith's half-shout for a penalty and header wide
Arsenal’s will to win had put them in the fifth round.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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