By Chris Harris at St Mary’s
Theo Walcott hit a hat-trick and Danny Welbeck scored twice as we cruised into the fifth round of the Emirates FA Cup.
Welbeck, making his first start since last May, set the tone with a delightful finish from Lucas’ pass. He doubled his tally with a deft first touch and a low shot into the corner.
Walcott made it three from Welbeck’s cut-back and then rounded off a splendid move with a first-time finish from Alexis’ pass. The Chilean set up his third too after a lung-busting run from the former Saint.
The goalscorers will grab the headlines but this was a tremendous team display, peppered with fine performances. Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles got a chance in midfield - and took it with aplomb.
After a run of last-gasp goals, a flurry of early goals made this a much more relaxing experience for Arsene Wenger and a large travelling contingent.
We’re into the last 16 for the seventh straight year - and in fine fettle ahead of a huge week in the Premier League.
Wenger made wholesale changes for our second test in this year’s Emirates FA Cup.
Lucky charm Shkodran Mustafi - 21 games, zero defeats - kept his place, but he had 10 new teammates from the Burnley game with Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny among those rested.
As well as Welbeck, Walcott returned to the line-up and club captain Per Mertesacker was back in the squad.
But the stand-out names were probably Maitland-Niles and Reine-Adelaide, who formed a midfield three with another former Saint, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Southampton, on a high from securing a trip to Wembley in the EFL Cup, also made 10 changes. The last time they met us in the cup? The 2003 final, won by Robert Pires’ goal in Cardiff.
The manager didn’t want a repeat of that sluggish start in the third round at Preston. He needn’t have worried.
We were on the front foot from the first minute with Reine-Adelaide especially prominent. He had the first chance, taking a touch on the edge of the box to control Walcott’s cut-back and seeing his shot blocked.
Jeff turned creator, poking a cute pass inside the full-back for Lucas, who seemed to get caught in two minds with a low shot that masqueraded as a cross and flashed past Walcott.
The first goal looked imminent and it duly arrived when Lucas turned smartly and played in Welbeck for a delicious scoop over the keeper that kissed the crossbar before nestling in the net.
Oxlade-Chamberlain set up the second seven minutes later with a raking pass over the top. Welbeck brought the ball down beautifully, steered a shot beyond Harry Lewis and celebrated with three of our gleeful substitutes, who were warming up on the touchline.
Florin Gardos’ outstretched leg denied Walcott a clear sight of goal after another intervention from Jeff in midfield, but Southampton responded well and went close through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Shane Long and Lloyd Isgrove.
But the cutting edge came from our front line, and another clever pass from Lucas played in Welbeck for a cut-back that Walcott, showing huge desire to beat his marker, powered in from close range.
A three-goal lead is hardly unassailable - just ask Bournemouth. So we couldn’t slacken and give Southampton hope.
We didn’t. The Saints gave it a good go in the early stages of the second half but we looked more likely to extend our lead than see it cut.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s vision picked out two Walcott runs, one of which put Walcott through on goal only for a defender to get back and dispossess him.
The England man eventually got his second though, after a slick team move that involved Lucas - again - and substitute Alexis. The Chilean picked out Walcott around the penalty spot and he found the bottom corner.
Southampton brought on Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond in an attempt to turn things around but they couldn’t test David Ospina. Instead, Walcott raced 50 yards to apply the finishing touch to another Alexis assist and make it five.
Our grip never loosened in this tie and, for the first time in a while, there was no need for late drama.
Six wins in seven, a place in the last 16 of two cup competitions, and a fighting chance in the Premier League. No wonder those travelling fans went home happy.
Referee: K Friend
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