Result: Portsmouth 0-2 Arsenal
Competition: FA Cup
Date: 2 March 2020
Venue: Fratton Park
Starting XI: Martinez, Sokratis, Luiz, Mari, Saka, Guendouzi, Torreira, Nelson, Willock, Martinelli, Nketiah
Subs: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pepe, Lacazette
Reiss Nelson helped himself to two assists as Arsenal beat Portsmouth 2-0 at Fratton Park to secure a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Sokratis and Eddie Nketiah were the willing beneficiaries of two fine crosses from the 20-year-old as Mikel Arteta’s players put Thursday’s defeat to Olympiacos behind them to keep alive hopes of a day out at Wembley.
Having played a draining 120 minutes against Olympiacos on Thursday, the boss opted to rotate heavily. Emi Martinez came in for Leno in goal, Pablo Mari was handed a debut in the centre of defence and Sokratis started at right-back. Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira anchored the midfield with Joe Willock given the Ozil role behind a youthful attacking unit; the German wasn’t in the squad. Reiss Nelson, right, and Gabriel Martinelli, left, flanked Eddie, Eddie, Eddie, who led the line.
It wasn’t a particularly pretty spectacle in the opening 45 minutes. The League One club’s fans were obviously up for the occasion and with hearty backing from the terraces, Kenny Jackett’s players put in a performance of real hustle and bustle.
As soon as the home side won possession they were quick to try their luck on the flanks. On the left wing, Marcus Harness was a particularly thorny problem for Sokratis who seemed to chase shadows for much of the opening 30 minutes. Thankfully, more often than not, the Pompey man’s end product wasn’t great.
Martinez didn’t really have a stop of note to make in the first half, but he did have to claim a few high balls and he generally swept things up well.
In contrast, to the home side’s energy, we were sluggish. In fact, despite the personnel changes, the performance was reminiscent of Thursday’s trauma-fest at the Emirates. We were ponderous in possession with our wide men too often left isolated.
It didn’t help our momentum that we were forced into an early change. A full-blooded challenge by James Bolton left Torreira in a heap and while the Uruguayan isn’t averse to the odd over the top reaction, this time you knew it was serious. He clutched his ankle, beat the turf and as soon as the medical staff arrived, they signalled for the stretcher. Dani Ceballos came on in his place.
After a relatively quiet start, Mike Dean grew into the game. Matteo Guendouzi was the first victim picking up a booking for a sarcastic reaction to three times being denied the chance to take a quick free-kick. It was ridiculous. The sooner Dean retires, the better. Cameron McGeehan soon joined the Frenchman in the book for a foul that left Willock writhing on the turf. His yellow was fully deserved.
When the camera wasn’t trained on Dean’s constant smirking, there were a couple of bright moments for us in attack. Martinelli, collecting a long diagonal ball from Sokratis, skipped past his man and tried to find Nketiah at the near post. The striker was just beaten to the punch. Not long after, Saka on the dribble managed to get off a low left foot effort. It was comfortably saved. Another half chance for Nketiah saw him snatch an effort wide.
On the right, Nelson was lively when he got the ball. A couple of times he got to the byline before crossing to nobody in particular. It turns out, practice makes perfect. Deep into stoppage time, the England under-21 delivered a ball of real quality to the near post for Sokratis, up for a corner that had initially been cleared, to crash home a volley. It was a lovely finish from the Greek who enjoyed his moment in front of the travelling fans. (1-0)
Six minutes after the break Nelson helped himself to a second assist. A lovely dart down the right freed space for him to whip in a cross to Nketiah who, at the second time of asking, squeezed the ball past the keeper at the near post. It was a tidy finish. (2-0)
The goal took the sting out of things on the pitch and in the stands. In between Willock heading wide and Saka forcing keeper Alex Bass to tip over – a period of 30 minutes or so – I hit Wikipedia. It turns out Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory, the flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, is preserved in Portsmouth. If only this report required a tabloid-style headline, I’d have a field day.
Having only lost once in 26 games at home this season, the home fans might have expected a bit more from their boys. Instead, we continued to keep them at arm’s length. Pablo Mari came through his first game with his reputation intact. He seems to read the game well and his passing was tidy.
In the final five minutes, Cannon did take advantage of a momentary Gunners lapse to fire goalwards…but it was nothing more than a shot across the bow. Wahey!
After last week’s trauma, this was a welcome win and clean sheet. Kudos to the youngsters for getting the job done with minimal fuss. We’ll find out who our next opponents are on Wednesday evening. Our attention returns to the league and a home fixture against West Ham.