By Rob Kelly at Amex Stadium
Arsenal secured their place in fifth round of the FA Cup with a 3-2 victory at Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday.
The Gunners had already been installed as one of the favourites for the competition prior to kick off after a day of shocks 24 hours earlier.
They underlined their pedigree within two minutes as Theo Walcott collected the ball in the area before finding the far corner for his first goal in more than a year.
Arsene Wenger’s side continued to dominate and extended their lead midway through the first half when Mesut Ozil coolly slotted home.
It was one-way traffic, but there was a jolt to Arsenal’s system at the start of the second half when Chris O’Grady fired in from the edge of the area.
But the visitors weathered the storm that followed and restored their two-goal advantage in fine style when Tomas Rosicky volleyed in from 20 yards out.
But Sam Baldock’s composed finish in the 75th minute ensured we would have a tense finale, with Alexis Sanchez then hitting the bar with a curling free kick - before repeating the trick in extra time.
The Gunners saw the game out relatively comfortably in the end, and can now look forward to Monday’s fifth-round draw as they move ever closer to Wembley.
THE SET UP
Having seen the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City lose the previous day to lower-league opposition, Arsenal had been presented with both an opportunity and a warning. The FA Cup may have opened up for them, but it had also reminded them of the inherent dangers of this competition.
This was the Gunners’ first away game in the cup since their 3-2 victory at the same venue two years ago, and the two goalscorers that day - Olivier Giroud and Walcott - started in attack this time around, alongside Ozil. It was the first time since Boxing Day 2013 that the latter two had started together, and just the fifth game ever.
Elsewhere, Wojciech Szczesny returned in place of David Ospina, while Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers came into the backline for Per Mertesacker and Hector Bellerin respectively. In midfield, Mathieu Flamini and Rosicky replaced Francis Coquelin and last weekend’s man-of-the-match Santi Cazorla in a much-changed team.
Arsenal had won all four of their previous FA Cup clashes with Brighton, although the hosts had an enviable record of 11 victories from their previous 12 home ties in the competition. The exception of course, was the Gunners’ victory here in 2013 - although they were run close in a thrilling game on the south coast.
With confidence sky-high following their superb win at Manchester City seven days earlier, the Gunners were immediately on the front foot, passing the ball slickly and probing at their hosts.
Within two minutes they were in front as Chambers escaped down the right and found Walcott in the area with a low cross. The England international had not found the target since New Year’s Day 2014, but was unerring in his accuracy as he took a touch and arrowed a shot into the far corner.
The visitors remained firmly in control, pinning Brighton back into the own half for extended periods and dominating possession. With Rosicky buzzing around and Walcott, Giroud and Ozil constantly switching positions, Brighton were having trouble keeping pace - and soon Arsenal extended their lead.
Walcott had been a major outlet for Wenger’s side throughout the first half, and one spin and run at the home defence spoke of a man very firmly returning to form. When that opportunity broke down, the Gunners simply retained possession, passing it around on the edge of Brighton’s area and waiting patiently for a chink in the armour.
Finally it appeared as Rosicky burst through the middle and threaded a low pass through Ozil in the area. The German international took a touch to collect the ball, before coolly slotting it past the onrushing David Stockdale.
They may have been well in control, but the visitors were given a warning soon afterwards when the ball broke to Baldock to the left of the area and he crashed his shot high over Szczesny’s bar.
But was merely a momentary blip in a one-sided first half, with the Gunners in cruise control as they headed in at the interval.
Arsenal picked up from where they had left off almost as soon as the second half started, with Giroud and Walcott both having half chances - but suddenly their lead was cut in half.
It was a frustrating goal as it was all of the Gunners’ own making. Firstly they failed to deal with a ball into the area, before Rosicky swung a boot at his clearance and looped it up in his own area. Baldock jumped highest to nod the ball into O’Grady’s feet, and the Brighton striker finished low into the bottom corner.
Suddenly it was contest once again.
But no sooner had the home fans burst into fine voice in a bid to push their side on, than the Gunners scored their third - and what a strike it was.
If Rosicky had any regrets about his part in Brighton’s goal, he made amends as he ran on to Giroud’s chipped pass and let fly with a fierce volley that flew past Stockdale to restore Arsenal’s two-goal advantage.
Just when it looked like they had killed off the hosts, Hughton’s side came roaring back and set up a tense finale when Baldock chipped the ball past Szczesny to make it 3-2.
Alexis - on as a substitute - hit the bar with a curling free kick in a nervy closing period, and then did it again with a brilliant effort in injury time.
The final whistle was greeted with a huge ovation from the 4,000 or so travelling fans inside the Amex, as Arsenal took one step closer to Wembley and the defence of their FA Cup crown.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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