Arsenal advance past spirited Sutton
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Sutton United 0 Arsenal 2
Little old Sutton knocked the mighty Eastenders from their perch as BBC One decided to clear their schedules for this game.
There was only one reason why the executives made such a decision – the hope in this era of hyperbole that millions of viewers might discover whether the greatest shock in the history of the oldest domestic Cup would unfold before their very eyes.
Sutton already have a proud cup pedigree, not just in eclipsing the pride of Yorkshire in Leeds United 1-0 in the last round, but in knocking out the then top flight Coventry City in 1989, a mere two years after the Sky Blues lifted the cup in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Spurs.
In all truth a victory over the mighty Gunners would surpass anything this venerated competition has ever seen. But there was to be no fairytale this time.
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Arsenal started with David Ospina in goal, having shipped five in that humiliation in Munich, and Theo Walcott was captain, with Rob Holding partnering Shkodran Mustafi in the centre of defence.
The dangerous but little used Lucas Perez also started along with the solidity of Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka – or Grant as the teamsheet called him, perhaps with Eastenders in mind.
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Sutton started with perhaps the best keeper in the National League, Ross Worner in their goal, though perhaps the romantics and absurdists among us willed a minor calf strain in the warm-up so that their 46-year-old, 20-stone reserve keeper Wayne Shaw might start.
Sutton also started with two former Gunners Roarie Deacon and Craig Eastmond.
The lights at this homely ground were shining bright in the darkness, the stands – and terraces were full to bursting and as they played Placido Domingo’s Nessun Dorma there was a genuine sense of the eyes of the world watching on.
Would tiny Sutton be able to shock The Arsenal – as they referred to them as such in the jam-packed match programme?
With the pitch deliberately soaked to make it a far more difficult surface for Arsene’s Aristocrats to perform on, the scene was set.
It was also a reminder as to why, despite all it’s travails, the FA Cup is the still world’s most engaging knockout competition in the world on night’s such as this.
The 750 Arsenal fans gathered in a low terrace with an ever lower roof to the right of two unassuming portacabins. It was a far cry from the majesty of the Allianz Arena last week. It was also a change as Arsenal were favourites tonight with Sutton at 25-1. Surely no-one apart the bookies would make money on those odds tonight. Would they?
As if to make a point the former 2009 youth cup winner Eastmond won a thudding header in the early stages as both sides struggled to keep their footing.
Eastmond then fired a low cross into Ospina’s box as his team-mates struggled to make contact. His intensity was as powerful as his intent to regain his position as a professional footballer.
What was also apparent was that both sides struggled to change direction – as mentioned by Wenger before the game.
A pitch invader dressed only in pants and what appeared to be a rubber chicken on his head ran among indifferent players with greater traction than they.
When he eventually removed himself from the pitch he still received less derision than Elneny’s shot which flew high and wide moments later.
Eastmond then had a claim for a penalty turned down by referee Michael Oliver.
Both teams sparred with honest endeavour, punctuated by former Gunner Deacon’s pacy probing down Arsenal’s left.
But the deadlock was broken on 27 minutes by a sweeping move from deep involving Xhaka who played the ball out to Perez on the right. The Spaniard then cut in from the flank before firing a low left-footed shot across Worner’s goal, as Walcott missed with an attempted flick, and into the net.
As the clock edged towards half time the pitch began to more resemble a skating rink as players found it increasingly difficult to keep their footing.
But Adam May could and should have equalised after he found himself in space to the left of Ospina’s goal. Unfortunately the moment proved too much for him and he fired wide when well-placed.
But as Oliver blew for half time it was clear that Sutton – 105 places below their illustrious visitors – had made sure Wenger’s men knew they had been in a game.
The second half started in much the same vein with plenty of commitment and honest effort and the atmosphere was further lifted by a wonderful full-blooded sliding challenge from Eastmond as he broke up a nascent Arsenal move on the right.
But on 55 minutes captain for the night Walcott netted a second for the visitors from close range and in the process becoming only the 18th player to hit 100 goals for the Gunners.
The lively Deacon and his trickery nearly helped pull a goal back as he beat Gabriel and crossed the ball into a crowded box. The danger was cleared only for the burly centre half Jamie Collins to head narrowly over from the subsequent corner.
Deacon then struck the woodwork with a stunning strike on 67 minutes as the game opened up.
Alexis Sanchez came on for Iwobi in a joint substitution which saw Reine-Adelaide depart for Ainsley Maitland-Niles who benefitted from a tough run out at Preston in the earlier round.
But as the clock ticked down on Sutton’s brave exploits which have enlivened this year’s FA Cup their fans sung realised the game was nearly up and sung a rousing rendition of ‘we’re proud of you’.
And as the final whistle blew that saw Arsenal win 2-0 with the prospect of Lincoln City at the Emirates in the quarter-finals next month both their superb fans applauded Sutton’s magnificent efforts.
Yet it wasn’t only Sutton fans who were proud of them – the generous travelling fans heartily clapped them off – as well as surely many of the watching millions at home.
For it was a famous night at Gander Green Lane and they had every reason to show their respect at what this tiny club have achieved.
Sutton: Worner, Amankwaah, Beckwith (Spence), Collins, Gomes, May (Hudson-Odoi) Eastmond, Bailey, Deacon, Biamou (Fitchett), Downer.
Arsenal: Ospina, Gabriel, Perez, Walcott, Holding, Iwobi (Sanchez) Monreal, Mustafi, Xhaka, Adelaide (Niles) Elneny (Oxlade-Chamberlain).
Referee: Michael Oliver.