Arsene Wenger pays tribute to ‘astonishing’ Sutton United after Arsenal win 2-0 at Gander Green Lane – as he admits minnows’ intensity surprises him

Sutton United's manager Paul Doswell (left) and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger shake hands before the

Sutton United's manager Paul Doswell (left) and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger shake hands before the game - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger paid tribute to battling non-league opponents Sutton United after his side’s hard-fought 2-0 FA Cup fifth round victory at Gander Green Lane on Monday night.

The under-fire Gunners capped a difficult week after a 5-1 trouncing at Bayern Munich in the Champions League to seal progression to the quarter finals of the world’s oldest knockout tournament where National League leaders Lincoln City await at the Emirates.

The long-serving Frenchman was impressed with the hosts, as goals from Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott – netting his 100th goal for the club – saw the North Londoners avoid a giant-killing.

He said: “Sutton were astonishing – they are basically division five and they are 17th out of 24.

“I will never go down to that level to manage because it is too difficult.

“They surprised me by the speed of their game, the fact they never stopped going until the end.

“We had to keep our focus, I must give credit to the players who were professional – if we had come here in a relaxed mood we would have gone out tonight because they produced quality.

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“They kept going and we were never really in a position where we could really afford to have a little breather in the game.

“Compared to 20 years ago these teams are fit now and can play at the pace of the Premier League.

“Maybe in the past teams like Sutton may have collapsed in the last 20 minutes, – but that is finished now.”

With damaging defeats in the league this month against Watford and Chelsea severely denting their title ambitions and the thrashing in Germany all but knocking them out of Europe before the second leg Wenger was under pressure to avoid defeat against the minnows from the South London suburbs.

When quizzed about his team selection he responded by saying: “We could not afford a light team selection tonight and that is why I came with basically all the players who were available because we couldn’t afford to go out tonight – we can never afford it.”

With the lively Perez netting the first goal tonight the Arsenal boss admitted the Spaniard signed from Deportivo La Couruna before August’s deadline day deserved more playing time.

“Perez is pushing on the door but I have many strikers. I have Giroud, Welbeck ,Walcott, Sanchez and Perez.

“It is true he deserves a go because he scores goals and is a good player.”

Chilean Alexis Sanchez came on for Alex Iwobi with fewer than 20 minutes remaining – as he did in the previous round against Southampton when the Londoners ran out 5-0 winners at St Mary’s.

However there were fewer eyebrows raised at the talented forward being brought on than on the south coast in the fourth round because the Gunners do not have a match for the next 12 days until they play in a crunch game at Anfield on Saturday, March 4.

He said: “He is a guy who has a strong body. I think on this pitch, it is the guy who does not have good co-ordination, who is heavy on his feet, who is in trouble. “He is more a guy who has very good co-ordination, light on his feet. I don’t think it was a risk in playing him tonight.”

Wenger also confirmed there was a bottle thrown but refused to confirm it was aimed at him. However with Wenger’s experience he relayed his memories of French non league teams, while also praising Sutton.

He said of his experience in Sutton: “I come from a club that is smaller than that so it reminds me of my childhood.

“The changing rooms for me were fantastic – the closer you are, the more united you are when you go out there. I prefer that – as you are much more together.”

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