By Chris Harris at Gander Green Lane
Theo Walcott completed a century of goals for the club as we eased into the last eight of the Emirates FA Cup.
The England international tucked away Nacho Monreal’s cross from close range to make this awkward tie rather more comfortable and bring up a notable milestone. He’s the 18th player to reach three figures for us.
Walcott might have brought up his ton in the first half but couldn’t quite get a touch on Lucas’ delivery into the box after the Spaniard led a swift counter-attack. It didn’t matter - the ball found the bottom corner to break the deadlock.
Sutton made life difficult, especially after the break when former Gunner Roarie Deacon rattled the crossbar.
But in the end our quality told, and we march on to another cup quarter-final and another non-league test - at home to Lincoln City.
SETTING THE SCENE
“The ultimate cup tie.”
That’s how Arsene Wenger described this game, a rags v riches contest between his international stars and the teachers, carers, personal trainers and builders that helped carry Sutton to the last 16 of the FA Cup.
It had all the ingredients that make the competition so special. Some 105 places separated us from our National League hosts, and yet a similar gap counted for nothing when Leeds United succumbed here in the fourth round.
Our job was to avoid an even more seismic shock on Sutton’s artificial surface, and the manager showed plenty of respect with his team selection.
There were seven changes with Walcott up front, Mohamed Elneny alongside Granit Xhaka in midfield and Alexis on the bench. Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin were rested.
Wenger said it would be “inexcusable” not to take this game seriously - and his players got the message.
We were professional from the first whistle and, although Sutton gave as good as they got in the early stages, we looked comfortable.
It did take a while for us to create chances. Maybe it was the pitch - the passing was certainly slightly hesitant at first. Maybe it was the defending - Sutton were solid and back in numbers.
We looked most dangerous on the counter-attack and the opening goal duly came that way. Lucas raced down the right, just keeping the ball in, and then cut inside his man to whip a low ball into the box.
Was it a shot? Well, it ended up that way. Walcott tried to get a touch but failed to do so, instead distracting goalkeeper Ross Worner as the ball found the far corner.
Former Gunners Craig Eastmond and Deacon were lively for Sutton and the home side did conjure up some promising positions, only to spoil it with overhit crosses. And they could have equalised when Adam May fired wide from David Ospina’s poor clearance.
But our quality was starting to show, and Walcott fired a shot just over after a probing run through the centre. Another speedy break - led by Walcott - set up another opportunity for Iwobi but his effort was deflected wide.
Walcott became our 18th centurion early in the second half with a simple finish from Monreal’s cross.
But to give Sutton their dues, the home side refused to let their heads drop and stormed back with a flurry of chances.
May set up Maxime Biamou for a low shot that Ospina got down to, but the goalkeeper was nowhere near Deacon’s thunderous shot. The crossbar denied him a moment of glory against his old club.
Jamie Collins headed over from a corner as Sutton kept up the pressure, and we were content to hit our hosts on the break. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on for Mohamed Elneny, flew down the left but couldn’t quite pick out Walcott in the centre.
The game was wide open now with chances at both ends. But although the home fans got a look at Alexis in the closing stages, they didn’t get any more goals.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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