Giroud on Fire as Gunners Scrape Past Brighton
After the quick-fire defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea, the resounding 5-1 victory over West Ham served as a sign of good things to come but a lot was expected from Arsenal in the wake of their trip to the Amex Stadium to take on Brighton and Hove Albion, a side that knocked out Newcastle in the previous round.
With half an eye on the midweek clash against Liverpool, Arsene Wenger made some wholesale changes to the team, bringing on Andre Santos *gulp* and Carl Jenkinson in the fullback positions, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky in midfield and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in attack.
Seeing Rosicky on the pitch was a pleasant sight and the Czech maestro began to orchestrate the midfield in his usual flamboyant style and almost combined perfectly with Lukas Podolski using a backheel but the Brighton defense quelled the threat.
The home side made a rear foray forward and an over the top ball conned the Arsenal defense allowing David Lopez a clear sight at goal but Wojciech Szczesny did really well to parry the ball. From the resulting counter attack, Rosicky covered a lot of ground before squaring the ball for Podolski. The German had a touch before laying it for Olivier Giroud and the Frenchman’s finish was a peach – a sweetly curled effort that left Casper Ankergren for dead.
As expected, Andre Santos wasn’t having the best of games, allowing the opposition to take advantage of his defensive frailties. Brighton’s fullback, Inigo Calderon, shimmied past Andre Santos before dinking in a cross that almost put Szczesny in No Man’s Land but the ball landed on the roof of the Polish goalie’s net.
Andre Santos received the ball and chose to dribble a Brighton player instead of locating a teammate closely, and Arsenal was almost punished for it. Will Buckley intercepted the Brazilian and crossed the ball into the danger area, which made Szczesny parry the ball to Leonardo Ulloa and like Edin Dzeko a few weeks ago, the Spaniard guided the ball in but the offside flag spared Arsenal’s blushes.
Brighton continued to press the Gunners and got the equalizer they deserved when an unmarked Ashley Barnes headed a corner home. For some strange reason, Diaby and Mertesacker took the best moment to do some ball watching and Szczesny could have done better in anticipating the cross.
So much for Arsenal’s zonal marking. Shame.
Late in the first half, Rosicky had a tame effort that went wide.
Arsenal began the second half on a brighter note when Jenkinson finding some space in attack to blast a ball that was parried by the goalie. Podolski also curled in a sumptuous free kick that slammed the cross bar with the keeper rooted to the spot.
10 minutes into the restart, Diaby darted forward and chipped a lovely ball for Giroud. His first touch was perfect, his second even better. Arsenal’s OG12 had smashed in his second of the day, taking his overall tally to 13 goals.
After gesturing for the fans to know the hottest kid in the block, he went for a warm cuddle with Arsenal faithful stationed on that end of the pitch.
Giroud showed his superb off the ball movement to get on the end of Rosicky’s pass but his effort was blocked by the Brighton rearguard. The home side continued to believe in themselves and got their reward when Ulloa connected to an inch-perfect cross with a diving header past a hapless Szczesny.
For a player with the experience of Mertesacker, that was some schoolboy defending from ze Big Friendly Giant.
Arsene Wenger responded immediately by bringing on Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott for Rosicky and the ineffectual Ox. Arsenal won a free kick on the edge of the box in a position no different from where Podolski slammed the bar. Giroud took responsibility this time and grazed his effort over the bar.
With Wenger sensing that the home side were exploiting Andre Santos’ weaknesses on the left hand side, he summoned Kieran Gibbs to replace the Brazilian that had another torrid outing by his standards.
Podolski eased past Calderon and supplied a neat cut back to Giroud but the Frenchman’s acrobatic effort bounced off the ground and over the bar.
When it seemed as if a replay was on the cards, the Gunners had a corner that was headed away from the box but into Walcott’s path. The forward blasted his shot through a pile of bodies but the ball managed to find the back of the net.
For the third time in the game, the Gunners were ahead and many had hoped that the scoreline would remain intact for the final five minutes or so. Right at the death, the Seagulls made an appeal for a penalty that fell on deaf ears.
After the game, Wenger had nice words to say about his two-goal man, Olivier Giroud (via Arsenal.com). He also commended Brighton’s performance and effectively ruled out making any signing this month.
It was a good all-round performance but my major concern was the torrid time Andre Santos had on the pitch. The maverick arrived on deadline day two seasons ago but he has failed to convince me or any Gooner out there that he can be an able deputy for Gibbs. On the other flank, Jenkinson blended back into the team, despite being out of action for as long as I can remember.
Anyways, the Gunners are through to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup and fingers will be crossed to know who the club’s next opponents will be.
Happy Sunday Gooners.
As for me, I’ll be spending the best part of the day checking out my elder sister, Nene Kester’s fashion collection at the Best Western Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos.
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