Welcome back. Arsenal made it 13 FA Cup wins in a row by beating Sunderland 3-1 at Emirates stadium this afternoon, thanks to goals by Joel Campbell, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.
Our defence of the Cup began with us boasting a much-changed line-up featuring Alex Iwobi in central midfield alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Calum Chambers backing them up in the defensive midfield role.
At the back, Petr Cech retained his place in goal with David Ospina – expected to start by many – not in the squad at all, and Kieran Gibbs and Gabriel replaced Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesacker respectively, from last Saturday’s starting line-up against Newcastle. Campbell and Theo Walcott kept their places on the flanks and Giroud again led the line.
I actually missed the first 20 minutes of the game and once I’d found a stream and settled down, we were a goal down – but just about to equalize. Laurent Koscielny had been caught in possession with 17 minutes played, after Gibbs gave him the ball under pressure and left him little time to sort out his feet. Jeremain Lens nicked the ball and finished emphatically past Cech at the near post.
Sunderland’s lead lasted just 8 minutes however, because Iwobi released Walcott down the left, he took on his marker before cutting the ball back into a busy penalty area for Campbell to saunter onto and nonchalantly guide home into the corner first time. As it would turn out, it was the first of three, one-touch finishes by Arsenal players on the day but this one was easily the hardest to execute.
Campbell carefully adjusted his stride to connect with the ball at the peak of it’s bounce, ensuring he kept it down and on target. Intelligent work from a player who seems to be going from strength to strength as our right-sided attacker.
The Costa Rican doesn’t appear to have a weakness in terms of his effectiveness for the side, now that he’s producing goals on a regular basis. He rarely gives the ball away, his passing is accurate and well-weighted, he can play the intricate game in small spaces, he tracks back like Alexis Sanchez – I’m struggling to find an area he’s obviously weak in.
But back to the game and after going into the interval level, we survived a scare in the second period when Steven Fletcher saw his header rattle our crossbar with Cech, for once, beaten. It was quite an open game at this stage but after Arsene Wenger sent on Ramsey and Mikel Arteta for Iwobi and Chambers after 67 minutes, we took control of proceedings and were ahead within five minutes.
Hector Bellerin and Campbell played a one-two down our right-hand side and the Spaniard crossed for the on-rushing Ramsey to guide home left-footed at the near post. Three minutes later, Bellerin produced an even better assist for Giroud to tap home, as he threaded a precise pass with his instep across the Sunderland defence to the far post. With Mesut Ozil given the game off, Bellerin emerged as our chief goal-creator to further embellish is burgeoning reputation.
Then came the moment everyone had actually turned up, or tuned in, to see: a first competitive appearance in Arsenal colours for none other, than Jeff Reine-Adelaide. The French teenager didn’t have time to embarrass an opponent like he did Kevin de Bruyne in the Emirates Cup last summer, but he did get himself on the end of a cross and force a corner after having a shot at goal smothered by their keeper.
Coincidentally, we produced the same result, courtesy of the same three goal-scorers, as our win over Sunderland at Emirates stadium back at the start of December. But this time, our reward is a place in round four of the FA Cup rather than three points and we’ll find out who we face next when the draw is made on BBC’s The One Show on Monday night.
See you on Sunday.