Arsenal booked a fourth round FA Cup tie with Brighton with a 1-0 win over Swansea at the Emirates this evening, the winning goal coming late courtesy of the in-form Jack Wilshere.
The Gunners had made three changes from the side defeated by Manchester City on the weekend. Mertesacker, Coquelin and Giroud came in for Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the suspended Koscielny.
Swansea meanwhile made six changes, with Danny Graham starting up front, and Michu awaiting as a very dangerous plan B on the bench.
Our starting XI looked well balanced, with Diaby and Coquelin sitting behind the trio of Walcott, Wilshere and Cazorla in midfield, and Giroud leading the line alone.
In a first half lacking in action the Gunners started relatively brightly. We pressed Swansea with Giroud getting in the thick of it. Walcott created two chances for the Frenchman in quick succession, the second of which he fired into the side netting when he should have done better. Arsenal were on the front foot.
But on 15 minutes Swansea conjured up the best chance so far. A slick passing move down the left flank saw Routledge clean through on goal, too easily from an Arsenal perspective, fortunately Vermaelen was on hand to rescue us with a last ditch sliding tackle.
Arsenal’s attacks lacked pace, and an all too familiar tedium seemed to be setting in, with Arsenal’s attacks petering out without much threat on the Swansea goal. Swansea’s attacks seemed more incisive, and they came within inches of opening the scoring on 24 minutes.
The ball fell to Routledge on the left after a Swansea free-kick in the Arsenal half, and his menacing cross found former Gunner Kyle Bartley, who headed against the crossbar from 6 yards out with just Wojciech Szczesny to beat.
We continued to keep possession but created little of any merit in a game that represented our only realistic chance of ending our infamous silverware drought.
Walcott had some frustrating moments – he strikes me to have developed an air of arrogance about him since his transfer saga has been in the limelight. Annoying, and not helpful to the team.
After 40 minutes Arsenal relied on Vermaelan once more, when the Belgian tackled Dyer well after a cutting through ball from Swansea.
Arsenal’s best chance of the first half then fell to Vermaelan, a Walcott corner falling to him just in front of goal, but the defender could only fire at Vorm’s legs with what proved to be the last kick of the first half.
The second half started with a lot more verve from an Arsenal point of view. On 48 minutes a lovely Diaby through ball from deep found Walcott in the box, the striker appeared to be pushed a little before dinking his chip agonisingly wide of the left post. He appealed for the push but the advantage was played and the goal would have counted.
We continued to mount pressure and played with more pace than in the first half, a trait that seems to be familiarising itself this season. We appeared determined to progress to the fourth round, a task which is yet to surpass Wenger in his Arsenal career.
Swansea made two subs around the hour mark with Hernandez on for Agustien and Sung-Yueng Ki for De Guzman, as Laudrup tried to freshen his side up. But shortly after Arsenal had two efforts cleared off the Swansea line, Walcott and Giroud’s efforts cleared by Graham and Britton respectively.
Arsenal continued to dictate the play and carved out some decent opportunities, with Cazorla and then Sagna both blazing chances over the bar, and Vorm being kept busy. An opening goal began to seem realistic.
On 70 minutes the moment we had all been waiting for happened and the sound of a simultaneous gulp rung around the Emirates: Michu came on, replacing the ineffective Danny Graham.
Swansea drilled a rare shot in low, forcing Szczesny into a decent save before it was Arsenal’s turn to hit the woodwork. Some good graft by Sagna on the right flank helped him to cross to Walcott, but the winger missed the ball completely and it rebounded off the inside of the post and into Vorm’s hands.
We continued to throw everything we had at them, with shots from Wilshere and Giroud being miraculously kept out by some last ditch defending and some Swansea fortune, and it began to feel like one of those days.
But the deadlock was broken on 85 minutes by a blistering Arsenal move, fittingly finished off by the outstanding Jack Wilshere. Cazorla passed with pace to Giroud at the edge of the box, the striker’s dinked pass falling sumptuously for Jack to smash home on the half volley. Wonderful, and well deserved by the young man who yet again gave his all and outshined the other 21 players on the pitch.
Arsenal managed to keep a cool head for the last five minutes and held on, unlike in the first tie. The second half performance deserved the win, it seems we just need to learn to play like that in two halves of a game.
Next stop, Brighton.