FA Cup third round: highs and lows

Thierry Henry celebrates scoring against Leeds at Emirates Stadium
Thierry Henry celebrates scoring against Leeds at Emirates Stadium

Delight and delirium, joy and pain, regret and recriminations: our FA Cup third-round matches down the years really have had it all.

We remain the most successful side in the world’s oldest cup competition – with 14 triumphs so far - and as we start our bid to extend that proud record this weekend, we look back at some of the most memorable third-round encounters of the past. 

We kick off our 124th season in the FA Cup away to Oxford United on Monday, and we examine the good, the bad and the ugly from previous third-round matches. Let’s hope our trip to the Kassam Stadium fits into the first category…

Arsenal 1-0 Leeds United

January 9, 2012

“It was the perfect script from a perfectly special player. It showed that some things never die like class, motivation and desire to win,” purred Arsène Wenger in the aftermath of one of the great FA Cup moments.

Just days after his much-celebrated return to the club - and just weeks after a bronze statue of him had been unveiled outside Emirates Stadium - Thierry Henry was named on the bench for this third-round clash. Just the mere sight of Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer warming up on the touchline produced roars of approval from those fans packed into this pocket of north London.

Finally, after 67 goalless minutes against a stubborn Leeds side, the crowd had their wish as Henry was introduced in place of Marouane Chamakh. In truth, he barely touched the ball before his chance for immortality came. But when it came, he took it.

It was classic Henry: one touch to collect Alex Song’s pass, a quick look up and then a stroked shot into the far corner. “I hope someone isn’t going to wake me up and tell me it was a dream," Henry beamed afterwards. The legend was back.

Port Vale 1-1 Arsenal (Arsenal won 4-2 on penalties)

January 14, 1998

David Seaman saves a penalty in the FA Cup shoot out against Port Vale

David Seaman saves a penalty in the FA Cup shoot out against Port Vale

A season that ended in glory for the Gunners could so easily have taken a very different turn. Arsène Wenger’s side were held to a surprise goalless draw against Port Vale at Highbury in their third-round clash, and went to a replay at Vale Park 11 days later. “The pitch was quite heavy, very boggy and very difficult to play football on. It was a typical third-round game and became a bit of battle,” Nigel Winterburn recalls. “They were on a high after getting a draw in the first game, and we knew we had to deal with the crowd and the state of the pitch.”

But once again, Arsenal struggled to find a way past the hard-working hosts and the game went to extra time. Dennis Bergkamp opened the scoring in the 100th minute but Wayne Corden almost immediately struck back meaning the game went to a shoot-out.

“At that stage I was just hoping my team-mates could pull it off, but you also know anything can happen,” Winterburn said. “But I also knew we had one of the top keepers in the world at that stage and the chances were that he would make a save.”

David Seaman kept his part of the bargain by pushing out Ian Bogie's spot-kick and Vale's Allen Tankard blazed the final shot over the bar. They may have scraped through but Arsenal would not waste their opportunity and went on to lift the FA Cup as part of Wenger’s first, and the club’s second, Double. On such small margins…

Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal

January 4, 1992

Wrexham striker Steve Watkin scores the winner in the FA Cup

Wrexham striker Steve Watkin scores the winner in the FA Cup

Arsenal were reigning champions, and heavy favourites against a Wrexham side struggling in the Fourth Division and also dealing with serious off-field problems. “Everyone expected us to win and we were aware they were in dire financial trouble,” David Hillier remembers. “But we also knew we had to be careful against a wounded animal because they can a bite. And they did that day.”

George Graham had made the FA Cup “a major priority” and few gave the Welsh club any chance of springing a surprise - especially after Alan Smith had converted a Paul Merson pass in the first half. But towards the end of the match, everything changed. “It started to get dark and wet, and the pitch was very heavy - all those things you don’t like,” Hillier says. “The crowd felt really close, it was pretty intense - particularly in that second half.”

With just eight minutes remaining, 37-year-old midfielder Mickey Thomas crashed home a superb free-kick to restore parity. Suddenly the momentum was with the home side, and within two minutes they scored the winner through Steve Watkin to send Arsenal crashing out.

“I remember Jimmy Carter’s face on the line as the winner went in, and I just thought, ‘Oh no!’ It was just one of those fairytale endings for Wrexham. Maybe it was just fate and supposed to happen,” Hillier added. Graham admitted afterwards that the defeat was “the lowest point of my career”

Walsall 2-0 Arsenal

January 14, 1933

Herbert Chapman

Legendary Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman

A contender for one of the greatest FA Cup upsets of all time, this defeat for Herbert Chapman’s side reverberated around English football. Arsenal were considered by many to be the best team in the country - they had won the league title in 1931 and would win it again in 1933, 1934 and 1935.

Their opponents were struggling near the foot of the Third Division South, but managed to hold a Gunners side containing four reserve players to a goalless draw at half time. Walsall were superb after the restart and opened the scoring through Gilbert Alsop, before Arsenal left back Tommy Black gave away a penalty that was converted to give the hosts a famous victory.

Bob Wall, an administrator at the club who worked alongside Chapman, said the manager told Black “he would never play for Arsenal again, he had let our reputation down and he need never come to the ground again. His boots would be sent round with the transfer forms. Tommy was transferred to Plymouth Argyle the following week.”

Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham

January 4, 2014

Tomas Rosicky scores against Tottenham in the FA Cup at Emirates Stadium

Tomas Rosicky scores against Tottenham in the FA Cup at Emirates Stadium

The opening game on the path to Arsenal’s 2014 FA Cup triumph, this north London derby win was the second of three victories over the 'old enemy' during the 2013/14 campaign.

This was the first time the sides had met in the competition since 2001, when Arsène Wenger's team beat Spurs to book their place in the final, where they were beaten by Liverpool.

Arsenal won the FA Cup the following year and again in 2005, but had not lifted silverware since. Santi Cazorla laid the first foundation for changing that at a packed Emirates Stadium, firing past Hugo Lloris following a fine Serge Gnabry pass.

Tomas Rosicky made sure just after the hour mark, robbing Danny Rose on the halfway line before sprinting clear and impudently dinking home to put the seal on a thoroughly pleasing evening, soured only by a serious cruciate knee ligament injury suffered by Theo Walcott, who would go on to miss 10 months of action.

“We played really well as a team,” Cazorla said after the match. “Tottenham have some good players but we played at a good level."

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