Arsenal survive Sutton test as Walcott hits his 100th goal
Non-league dream dies, but Wenger pays tribute to the south London side as Gunners work hard for victory
Sutton United 0 Arsenal 2
In the end all the hype came to nothing as Arsenal eased into the quarter-final of the FA Cup with a 2-0 win at Sutton. There was no hint of a giant-killing as the Gunners emerged with barely a scratch against the non-league outfit who never threatened to pull off one of the greatest shocks in the tournament's history.
The closest Sutton came to scoring was when Roarie Deacon struck the bar with a rasping drive in the second-half, but by then the Gunners were already two goals to the good and on cruise control.
"We did the job," said Arsene Wenger. "We have to give them credit because every error we made they took advantage of. They played very well."
Sutton emerged from the tie with credit but their FA Cup odyssey is now over, while Arsenal look forward to hosting another non-league club, Lincoln City, in next month's quarter-final
Sutton must now switch focus to their National League campaign. They are only three points off the relegation zone and travel to Torquay at the weekend for a match that won't quite set the pulses racing as Monday night's encounter did.
In what was without doubt the most prestigious night in the history of Gander Green Lane, for the first 20 minutes Sutton made life difficult for the club ranked 105 league places above them. But when Lucas Perez cut in from the right and drove a low shot into the far corner of the Sutton net the result looked inevitable. Arsenal's nerves began to fade and as they got the feel of the artificial pitch so they began to play with more assurance.
Theo Walcott, captain for the night, doubled the Gunners advantage after the break with his 100th goal for the club, ensuring this was one banana skin that Arsenal avoided.
"If we were not mentally prepared we would not have gone through," said Wenger, whose position has been under intense scrutiny following last week's 5-1 thrashing against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Defeating Sutton won't draw the sting from his critics but at least Arsenal are still in the hunt for some silverware in what's been another difficult season for the Frenchman.
For Sutton manager Paul Doswell - whose nine-to-five job is in the construction industry - all that remains this season is to avoid relegation. But he told the BBC that memories of their cup run will never fade. "It was a dream to watch my team play against Arsenal," he said. "The quality of the team they put out showed what's at stake. I'm very very proud. This was our cup final and these players will go down in history at the end of the day."
And Doswell had a message for Lincoln, who meet Arsenal on 11 March: "Go and have your day in the sun like we have."
Wenger starts at the bottom as Arsenal rehabilitation begins
After seeing his Arsenal side cut down to size by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week, Arsene Wenger begins his rehabilitation at the opposite end of the football spectrum as the Gunners visit Gander Green Lane to face Sutton United.
The devastating defeat in Germany unfolded in front of a crowd of 75,000, but only 5,000 will be in attendance for the crucial FA Cup clash against the non-league minnows.
But while the crowd may be small, interest in the game is huge.
"So nobody cares about the FA Cup? Try telling them that at Sutton, which for a few surreal days is discovering what happens when a tiny National League club becomes the temporary centre of the footballing universe," says Jonathan Liew of the Daily Telegraph. "The word 'circus' barely does it justice."
A temporary TV studio has been built at Sutton, new floodlights have been installed and building work on the dilapidated facilities has been taking place all week ahead of the visit of Premier League royalty. But while those connected with Sutton have been working round the clock it's Arsenal and their manager who could be forgiven for feeling the pressure.
Wenger "has admitted he is concerned about facing Sutton United on the National League side's artificial 3G pitch and warned his Arsenal players not to take the FA Cup fifth-round tie lightly in a week in which he has come out fighting over increased scrutiny of his position", says The Guardian.
The Gunners will be "desperate to avoid embarrassment" against Sutton, agrees The Times, but will be without Danny Welbeck, as there are fears the artificial surface could aggravate a knee injury that has sidelined him for most of the season.
Wenger believes there are at least three problems his side must overcome if they are to beat the minnows. "Firstly, the pitch. Secondly, their enthusiasm. Thirdly if we are not ready for a big fight. Subconsciously if we think 'no matter, it's a non-league team, we will pass', that will not happen," he said.