Arsenal scrape through after weekend of FA Cup carnage
The holders are only Premier League top six team safely into round five after a weekend of upsets
Brighton 2 Arsenal 3.On a weekend of eye-popping cup upsets holders Arsenal survived a late scare at Brighton to make the draw for today's fifth round of the FA Cup.
With Chelsea, Manchester City , Spurs and Southampton all crashing out on a Saturday some described as the craziest afternoon in cup history, Arsenal travelled to Brighton knowing that victory would send them one step closer to retaining the trophy they won at Wembley in May.
Only ten Premier League clubs go into this afternoon's draw, and of four of them, including Manchester United and Liverpool, face replays against lower league opposition before they can leave the fourth round behind them.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Gunners are favourites for this season's FA Cup, and Theo Walcott sounded bullish when asked about Arsenal's chances of retaining the trophy. "As defending champions it is our cup at the moment," he said. "All those teams going out means it is a massive opportunity. We believe with the team we have and the players coming back from fitness we can beat anyone."
Walcott was one of those players returning to top fitness after months out injured, as was Mesut Ozil, and the pair both scored in a first-half dominated by the visitors.
Walcott's goal came after just 90 seconds, the England frontman converting Calum Chambers' cross from the right to give the Gunners a dream start and banish memories of his last FA Cup outing. That was the first week of January last year, when a knee injury sustained in the win over Spurs, sidelined him for the rest of the year.
But he's back, and so is Ozil, having recovered from the knee ligament injury that has kept him out of action since early October. The German midfielder picked up a pass from the outstanding Tomas Rosicky on 24 minutes and slammed the ball into the corner for his first goal for the club since September.
Brighton were brighter after the break and Chris O'Grady pulled back a goal on 50 minutes though the home fans weren't in celebratory mood for long. Just before the hour mark Rosicky played a delightful one-two with Olivier Giroud before volleying the ball past David Stockdale in the Brighton goal.
Sam Baldock made it 3-2 on 75 minutes but Arsenal had little difficulty in seeing out the tie and taking their place in today's fifth round draw, much to the relief of Arsene Wenger. "We had to fight until the end," admitted the Frenchman. "They gave it a go like a typical Championship team can do, that is why so many Premier League teams were surprised yesterday."
Wenger said Saturday's results – notably Chelsea-s 4-2 defeat at home to Bradford and Manchester City's 2-0 surrender to visitors Middlesbrough – had come as a "huge surprise", adding: "The cup is the cup - what you want is to focus on the next round to go through. We have a good experience from last season to know that every round is difficult. The most difficult games were not especially the expected ones last season, so let's wait for the draw [but] of course we'll fight and we want to retain our cup."