Arsenal are in the hat for the FA Cup fifth-round draw on Sunday.
Arsène Wenger’s team eased through against Coventry City at Emirates Stadium on Friday night thanks to a first-half brace from Lukas Podolski plus late goals from subsitutes Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla.
The German established Arsenal’s lead in the first half-hour and, despite solid resistance from the visitors immediately after the break, they never truly looked like releasing their grip.
Wenger had fielded a Premier League side and Arsenal have been efficient at holding on to leads in the top-flight all season. They managed the threat of their spirited League One visitors with something to spare.
Aside from that, this game was notable for a partial floodlight failure at the end of the first half and the debut of Gedion Zelalem, 16, midway through the second period.
By making his bow, the skillful German midfielder became the first player to feature for Arsenal who was born after Wenger took charge of the Club.
A unique event during an otherwise regulation win.
SETTING THE SCENE
At first glance, Wenger’s side was surprisingly strong. But in fact there were six changes from the one that had beaten Fulham last weekend.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started a game for the first time since the opening day of the season.
Elsewhere Nicklas Bendtner, Podolski, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Fabianski came in.
Giroud, Bacary Sagna and Cazorla, Mathieu Flamini and Nacho Monreal dropped to the bench. Wojciech Szczesny was left out of the squad entirely.
According to manager Steven Pressley, Coventry would arrive with ambition. Certainly a healthy allocation of highly-vocal Sky Blues’ fans were here in support the League One promotion-chasers.
The game began in incessant rain and Arsenal began in incessant fashion.
The home seized the initiative from the opening seconds and might have taken an early lead had Podolski managed to convert Jenkinson’s excellent cross.
Then Oxlade-Chamberlain blasted an effort inches over the bar.
The inevitable opening goal arrived on the quarter-hour.
Jack Wilshere thieved the ball in midfield and fed Mesut Ozil. The German’s mind instantly computed the possibilities and eventually decided to feed Podolski on the left. The German raced past the keeper Joe Murphy and fired his fourth goal of the season into the far corner.
Coventry followed the goal by not only venturing into Arsenal’s territory for the first time but creating a decent opportunity. Carl Baker turned Per Mertesaker before trying to find the top corner from range. Fabianski managed to shepherd the ball over.
It would be the briefest respite.
After Serge Gnabry had fired over, Arsenal found a second goal in the 27th minute.
It was an all-German affair.
Gnabry’s corner was nodded on by Mertesacker at the near post for Podolski to bundle home a header.
The pace did not let up. Gnabry volleyed wide from Gibbs’ deep cross then Jenkinson fired inquisitively across the face of goal.
The right back had caught the eye this evening and, seven minutes from the break, he set up Podolski, who hacked a shot over the bar with a first-half hat-trick in sight.
As the interval approached there was a partial floodlight failure due to a power surge. It was not enough to force a stoppage in play but the atmosphere was somewhat eerie.
In the gloom Wilshere burst through but nudged his shot wide when he should have forced Murphy into action.
The lights had returned to full power by the time we restarted but Arsenal took some time to recover their poise.
In fact the opening chance fell to Leon Clarke, who sprinted clear in the right-hand channel and forced a low save from Fabianski at the near post.
Then Oxlade-Chamberlain was robbed by Franck Moussa and Clarke planted a shot against the outside of the post.
The visitors sensed their moment and, for the sake of the game, they had to take it.
Gradually Arsenal recovered. They had already seen Oxlade-Chamberlain seemly bundled over in the area. After that Bendtner steered a shot wide when well-placed.
Billy Daniels spurned an even clearer chance to suggest Coventry still felt the revival was on.
But Arsenal were back in control.
Wenger made a double change – Bendtner and Oxlade-Chamberlain for Cazorla and Zelalem. The latter became only the sixth 16-year-old to debut for the Club.
Shortly afterwards Giroud replaced Podolski. It took him five minutes to find the net following fine interplay between Gibbs and Cazorla.
The Spaniard converted in injury time as Arsenal ended the game, as they had started, on top.
This was a solid, entertaining cup tie won by the superior side but Coventry can take pride in their performance as well.
Referee: Robert Madley
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