Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Arsenal 3
I`ve written much before about the domestic cups representing something of a "lucky dip" for the travelling fan. A chance to visit a new ground, a new city, to draw a team from another league that friends support (Millwall away in Round 5 please) or that has family nearby. Since my mum moved down to Brighton a few years back, Brighton & Hove Albion have always been on the "wish list" for these precise reasons. So my joy when we knocked Swansea out via a replay was manifold. By serendipity, my flatmate was unable to attend the game, so I even managed to nab my mum a ticket next to me in the away end.
Having taken the journey down on Friday evening, a Saturday morning lay in followed by a bacon sandwich breakfast was the perfect preparation for the day ahead. We left at around 1pm, fearing heavy match day traffic. It was not yet 1.20pm by the time I was supping a pint of Harvey`s Best Bitter in the vast away concourse. Tickets were incredibly popular for the match and the fact that 4,100 tickets sold out in a matter of hours to supporters with 10 credits minimum, exposed the flaws of category pricing away supporters. Away fans don`t tend to "categorise" games in any case, but if they do, the values are often different than just how much the opposition cost to put together. Brighton and Bradford have been our quickest selling away fixtures of the season, does that make them Category A?
In any case, it was clear that a large portion of the visiting support had enjoyed the seaside town`s many drinking establishments pre match. Arsene made changes, with Cazorla, Wilshere, Sagna, Gibbs and Walcott rested to the bench. Aaron Ramsey reprised his deep midfield role. Regular readers will know of my staunch belief in Ramsey`s ability, but I must say I never saw him as a deep midfielder. Granted it`s only been two games thus far, but he`s been excellent in both of them. His game is simplified, which you get the impression he needed to do to improve. His energy is also better channelled harrying opponents off the ball. This could be the making of him.
The game began slowly as you`d expect with a starting XI that can`t have played together too often. Just after the quarter hour mark, Liam Bridcutt`s lofted ball split the Arsenal defence, Barnes controlled and steered a shot goalwards, Szczesny came out, made himself big and made an incredible pointblank stop. He collected the resulting corner and bowled it out to Rosicky. The Czech showed the positive qualities which make him such an asset, buccaneering forwards with the bal. He found Podolski, who touched the ball into the path of Giroud on the edge of the box. The Frenchman had plenty to do as he controlled and curled a delicate finish into the top corner.
Brighton looked momentarily stunned as Arsenal began to monopolise possession, but the away side didn`t look for the killer goal. Their play slowed again and the Seagulls looked to take advantage. Lopez`s low cross was only palmed away by Szczesny, into the path of Ulloa, but fortunately the linesman`s flag spared the Pole`s blushes. If that was a warning flare, Arsenal failed to heed it. A few moments later, Podolski was caught napping on a short corner and allowed Buckley to play it short to Lopez, his inviting cross was nodded home by Barnes with Szczesny grasping thin air. The keeper`s reaction was, bizarrely, to harangue Santos, who had absolutely nothing to do with the goal whatsoever. (Santos made this point forcefully and rightly so, it was Podolski that allowed the cross to come in and Szczesny that made a balls up of the cross).
Santos had actually started the game well but the tongue lashing he took from Szczesny seemed to melt his fragile confidence. The supporters saw it and got on his back, he`s clearly operating at a low level of confidence as it was. I`m all for players telling one another what`s what, but it was poor form by Szczesny to target him in that way when he`s low on self belief. That said, it probably suggests that the players don`t have an awful lot of faith in him any longer. He was forcefully jeered off by the supporters too. He`s not a bad left back, but he doesn`t really fit the team any longer and it`s hard to see any way back for him at Arsenal now. Three separate arguments, one physical, broke out in my block yesterday. The febrile air of anger amongst the support is beginning to manifest itself in increasingly bizarre ways. A fella three rows in front of me turned his anger on a bunch of teenagers behind him because they were being too supportive for his liking! (After Santos had aimlessly blasted a shot over the bar, one of them clapped his hands together with words of encouragement for the Brazilian which offended the purple faced gentleman immediately in front of them).
The Gunners emerged for the second half with greater purpose. Podolski`s floated free kick crashed against the cross bar. But just before the hour mark, the pressure paid off. Diaby dinked a ball over the top of the Brighton back four (Diaby has executed this style of pass several times in his Gunners career). Again, Giroud had plenty of work to do as he held off the attention of Dicker, took the ball down and slammed it into the net from close range. Giroud has endeared himself to the support through his tenacious work rate, but both of his goals were top class. Let`s hope he can manage this kind of elan in front of goal on a consistent basis. I have certainly felt that he hasn`t always been clinical enough this season, but I`ve never had any doubts that he would work very hard to rectify.
Oddly enough, Giroud was booked for his celebration as he leapt into the crowd. Rosicky and Podolski did likewise and weren`t booked. Arsenal had a good chance to bury Brighton when Rosicky`s bright brain sprang into action, he sent a quick, raking ball over the top of the Brighton defence, Giroud held off Dicker and drove a shot goalwards, but Ankegren was equal to his powerful shot. But Arsenal`s frailties allowed the home side another equaliser, even though they hadn`t looked terribly dangerous in the final third. Diaby and Santos stood off of Barnes as he swung a right wing cross into the area and Ulloa snuck between Mertesacker and Koscielny to head home his first goal for the club. Arsenal`s centre halves were guilty of ball watching.
Wenger sent for the cavalry, as Wilshere and Walcott came on for Rosicky and for Chamberlain. The latter is having a worryingly average season. Wilshere sent Podolski racing clear on the left hand side, his pinpoint cross found Olivier Giroud, whose volley bounced onto the roof of the net. A similar move saw Gibbs dink a nice cross into the area, which Giroud scissor kicked goalwards, but the ball took a lucky bounce off of Wayne Bridge and looped wide. Eventually though, Arsenal`s pressure told. Brighton had been forced into two changes before the second half and the legs were beginning to tire.
Wilshere`s corner was punched unconvincingly to the edge of the box by Ankegren, Walcott did exactly what was required, he hit a first time volley and elected just to keep it low and on target. In a crowded area, it can always take the sort of deflection you want it to. That proved to be the case as the ball ricocheted into the net via a Brighton defender. The chorus of "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" was aired hopefully in the South Stand once more. Walcott then sprinted away from Bridge on the right and made a beeline for the area. He took on a shot from a tight angle when the cutback to Giroud was a more viable option.
The home side had a decent shout for a penalty in stoppage time when Koscielny appeared to tug Mackail-Smith in the area; but the referee waved away Brighton`s appeals and Arsenal progressed to the 5th Round. The victory was just about deserved, even if Brighton, unsurprisingly, made us work for it. The quality in reserve on the substitute`s bench was ultimately telling for Arsenal, even if it is a worry that individual errors continue to blight our defending. We headed into Brighton town centre to the wee small hours to toast a victory. Millwall, MK Dons or Luton away would do very nicely in the next round thank you. LD.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: 16.ANKEGREN, 25.CALDERON, 3.GREER(c) (18.Dicker `37), 2.EL-ABD, 28.BRIDGE, 32.BRIDCUTT, 7.HAMMOND, 21.LOPEZ, 30.BUCKLEY (26.Lua Lua H/T), 10.BARNES, 16.ULLOA (9.Mackail-Smith `68). Unused: 6.Painter, 15.Vicente, 19.Orlandi, 29.Kuszczak.
ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 25.JENKINSON, 4.MERTESACKER(c), 6.KOSCIELNY, 11.A.SANTOS (28.Gibbs `79), 16.RAMSEY, 2.DIABY, 7.ROSICKY (10.Wilshere `69), 15.CHAMBERLAIN, 9.PODOLSKI, 12.GIROUD. Unused: 3.Sagna, 19.S.Cazorla, 23.Arshavin, 24.Mannone.