Brighton 2 Arsenal 3
With the surprises on show on Saturday, Arsene Wenger was reminded that if you loose your guard in the FA Cup, you’d be duly punished. It was expected that some players in the team where going to get some deserved rest so it was paramount for the manager to rotate the squad effectively to keep everyone fresh.
Wojciech Szczesny replaced David Ospina in goal and there were starts for Calum Chambers and the fit-again Kieran Gibbs. I was thinking that Laurent Koscielny was going to get some rest but it was glaring that Per Mertesacker needed a breather too. With the imminent arrival of Gabriel Paulista, it was heartwarming to know that this position is well covered. In midfield, Mathieu Flamini returned ahead of the Coq with Aaron Ramsey and captain of the day, Tomas Rosicky, in the middle. Olivier Giroud was flanked by the returnees, Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott.
It was important to start the game well and Arsenal got to the best possible start when Chambers skipped past his marker before drilling a cross for Walcott. The Englishman has been rusty of late but we saw the Walcott of old as he controlled the ball immaculately before blasting it past Stokedale in goal. It took just 90 seconds for the Gunners to take the lead.
Özil got into his stride and threaded a pass to Ramsey. The Welsh Jesus let one rip but the shot was blocked by a Brighton defender. Arsenal extended their lead when Rosicky cushioned an inch-perfect pass to the path of Özil that controlled the ball with his first touch and sent the goalie the wrong way with the second.
That second goal brought an air of complacency into Arsenal’s game and they were almost punished when Koscielny lost possession in his area but Baldock hoofed his shot over the bar. At the start of the second half, Brighton received a glimmer of hope when the ball crept into O’ Grady’s path and the forward fired a shot that left Szczesny rooted to the spot. Arsenal restored their two goal cushion when Rosicky sent a blind pass to Giroud and when he received the Frenchman’s chipped effort, he blasted the ball under the goalie to make it three.
Walcott had a near post effort that was saved and there was even time for the manager to bring on Alexis Sanchez and Chuba Akpom for Giroud and Walcott. Brighton clawed another goal in when Baldock was clean through on goal and he executed a neat chipped effort over Szczesny. Wenger brought on Francis Coquelin to add some steel to the midfield and there were two late freekicks from Alexis that threatened the goalie.
In the end, the goals were more than enough to book a fifth round berth and it was also good to know that it was achieved with so many regular first team players getting a rest. Wenger rested seven players from the Etihad game and the players that were brought on had it in them to achieve what the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, Southampton and Manchester City failed to do.
Have a great week.
The FA Cup may not be as glittering in terms of its rewards like the Champions League or Premier League but what it offers is that unpredictable knockout football. Hey, it was the competition that ended the Gunners trophy drought so you can say that Arsenal fans have a thing or two for it. Let’s not forget that it’s also the competition Arsene Wenger has won the most (five times) in his 18-year stint with the club and I’m sure he loves ’em cup runs.
Imagine being Wenger in last season’s FA Cup final conceding two goals in eight minutes. I’m sure he felt in his heart that if he lost that competition, he would have chosen not to renew his deal because if the lads were not motivated enough to win a Hull side they beat a couple of weeks in the run to the final, then there’s no point hanging around. Well, the boys turned up the style and that would go down as one of the best Cup finals I’ve ever witnessed as a fan.
So last season’s adventure was over and it was now about the Gunners defending their crown. Sadly for Hull, they were faced in front of the firing line again and it took goals from Per Mertesacker (his only goal this season) and Alexis Sanchez (I’ve lost count of how many goals he’s scored) to take the Gunners to the fourth round.
The Fourth Round took center stage yesterday with some results that would go down well with the Emirates faithful. It started with a shock win for Birmingham City over Swansea but the Swans have been utter shite recently so the result wasn’t really all that ‘shocking’ per se. Then there was the Manchester United vs. Cambridge that ended up as a bore draw. LVG’s side was shambolic as you’d expect but since Cambridge couldn’t nick in a goal at home, you’d expect them to have their work cut out for them at Old Trafford. Then there was the Chelsea vs. Bradford game where a bullish Mourinho stated that it would be a disgrace to lose to Bradford. Little did he know that Bradford would make history by being the first team to beat Mourinho by four goals in his home stadium. Manchester City still had the Arsenal hangover against Middlesbro’ugh and there were goals for Marouane Chamakh and Yaya Sanogo as the Alan Pardew army marched on past Southampton. The day was wrapped up with a stalemate between Liverpool and Bolton.
Today the Gunners come up against a Brighton side they faced off two seasons ago. It wasn’t a stroll in the park as many expected and I can vividly remember that Andre Santos had a torrid time. Two goals from Olivier Giroud and a late Theo Walcott goal settled the contest.
To team news, Wojciech Szczesny could be in line to make a return to first team football action and it would be interesting to see how he handles it. In defense, Kieran Gibbs is working his way back to full fitness and I expect him to get a run out with Hector Bellerin continuing his good run of form on the right. Laurent Koscielny would get some deserved rest with Calum Chambers and Per Mertesacker in the heart of the defense.
In midfield, Mathieu Flamini has been displaced from the first team by Francis Coquelin, so I have a hunch that he’d be odds on to play today. Aaron Ramsey is still in need of games so he’d play alongside the ageless Czech, Tomas Rosicky, in the middle. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud will complete the front three.
Here’s to a great game of football
As recently as the 2012/13 campaign, Arsenal visited the Amex Stadium to take on a Brighton side that had advanced to the fourth round after a shock win over Newcastle. That Brighton and Hove Albion, under the tutelage of Gus Poyet, had some household names with the likes of Wayne Bridge, Ashley Barnes (currently at Burnley), Liam Bridcutt (currently at Sunderland) and of course, the debutant, Leonardo Ulloa (currently at Leicester). The Gunners played the fixture on the back of two agonizing defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea that was sandwiched in between a FA Cup third round replay against Swansea.
With half an eye on the midweek clash against Liverpool (game ended 2-2), Arsene Wenger made some wholesale changes to the team, bringing on Andre Santos and Carl Jenkinson in the fullback positions, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky in midfield and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in attack. The Gunners opened the scoring with a sumptuous finish from Olivier Giroud and against the run of play, Barnes rose highest from a corner to equalize for the home side. 10 minutes into the restart, Diaby darted forward and chipped a lovely ball for Giroud. His first touch was perfect, his second even better. Brighton restored parity to the scoreline with a diving header from Ulloa but it took a late Theo Walcott deflected effort to settle the contest.
Arsenal qualified for the fifth round clash against Blackburn and Wenger rested his key players because of the Champions League first leg tie against Bayern Munich. The move backfired horribly as the Gunners lost to Blackburn and also lost to Bayern Munich. Last season, Wenger was faced with the same dilemma last season with a FA Cup clash against Liverpool and a clash against Bayern around the corner but he opted to use his first team and he won Liverpool. Even though he lost to Bayern yet again.
A lot has happened since the last time Arsenal and Brighton met two seasons ago. From a personnel standpoint, players like Marouane Chamakh, Gervinho, Andrei Arshavin, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Andre Santos, Sebastien Squillaci, Johan Djourou, Lukasz Fabianski and Ignasi Miquel have moved on and I stated earlier, Brighton has had their fair share of departures.
How are they faring at the moment? Not so well, I’m afraid.
After ex-Liverpool great, Sami Hyypia, was sacked by Bayer Leverkusen, he was hired by Brighton but the results in his first six months with the club were very poor with just one win in Hyypia’s last 18 games with the club. After managing the side for 26 games and recording six wins (three were Cup matches), Hyypia tendered his resignation and was replaced by former Newcastle and Norwich boss, Chris Hughton.
Brighton are currently 21st in the Sky Bet Championship, level on points with second from bottom Millwall but can only boast of a better goal difference (-6 compared to Millwall’s -26) and are just three points ahead of bottom placed Wigan Athletic. The club was ousted from the League Cup by Arsenal’s fierce rivals, Tottenham. Goals from Erik Lamela and the red-hot Harry Kane settled the contest in White Hart Line. Brighton advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup after defeating Brentford with top scorer, Lewis Dunk, getting in among the goals. Chris O’Grady scored the goal that put the game beyond doubt.
The Gunners would be licking their lips in the prospect of another stroll in the pack but they would know clearly that teams in England can punish you given half a chance. Here are the other FA Cup 4th Round fixtures.
Southampton or Ipswich Town vs Crystal Palace
Cambridge United vs Manchester United
Blackburn Rovers vs Swansea City
Chelsea vs Millwall or Bradford
Derby County vs Scunthorpe United or Chesterfield
Preston North End vs Sheffield United
Birmingham City vs West Bromwich Albion
Aston Villa vs AFC Bournemouth
Cardiff City vs Reading
AFC Wimbledon or Liverpool vs Bolton Wanderers
Burnley or Tottenham Hotspur vs Leicester City
Rochdale vs Stoke City
Sunderland vs Fulham or Wolverhampton Wanderers
Doncaster Rovers or Bristol City vs Everton or West Ham United
Manchester City vs Middlesbrough
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