‘Trio-Walcott’ nets treble and Danny Welbeck a pair as Steve Bould’s impressive Arsenal rout Southampton 5-0 in FA Cup
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Steve Bould’s impressive Arsenal side cruised past a subdued Southampton team 5-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup at St Mary’s Stadium this afternoon – as Theo Walcott netted a hattrick, with Danny Welbeck netting a brace.
The emphatic victory saw the North Londoner’s ease into the fifth round with a convincing display – as the former Highbury centre-half took charge during the first match of Arsene Wenger’s four game ban for pushing the fourth official during Sunday’s tempestuous game against Burnley.
The hosts – predictably suffering a hangover from their League Cup exploits against Liverpool earlier in the week – were as disappointing as the away team were impressive.
Midfielder Granit Xhaka was suspended for Arsenal after his red card against Burnley last Sunday, with Theo Walcott is back in the squad following a calf injury.
David Ospina started in place of Petr Cech, with Ainsley Mailtland-Niles in the starting line-up as he was against Preston North End in the last round, with late Deepdale substitute Jeff Reine-Adelaide starting this time around.
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Saints were missing the influential Virgil van Dijk, as well as James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez as defender Van Dijk has a long-term ankle injury, while midfielder Ward-Prowse and forward Rodriguez picked up knocks in Wednesday’s EFL Cup win at Liverpool.
The contemplative trip down the M3 ahead of this afternoon’s late kick off evoked memories of long-gone visits to a raucous Dell, Southampton’s much-missed – and much-loved - former ground.
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With teak-tough former centre-half Steve Bould nominally in charge of the team after his boss offered his own version of his gladiatorial spirit against the fourth official at the Emirates last week in their late, late victory against Burnley - minds raced back to the Stoke-born centre back’s own battles on the South Coast against the insanely-gifted but mercurial Matt Le Tissier.
Football has changed a lot in the decades since Steve Bould earned his stripes as a non-nonsense centre-half battling against one-club mavericks such as Le Tiss.
Today on the South Coast Bould was attempting to show his nous as a Premier League manager – or at least, in the parlance of David Brent’s timeless comedy The Office – assistant to the manager.
But Arsenal’s all-too apparent determination to put this tie to bed from the referee’s first whistle was no laughing matter – certainly not for young Southampton keeper Harry Lewis. The 19-year-old Lewis – who’s earned 10 caps for England’s U18 team - is so unheralded he’s yet to have even a Wikipedia page.
Arsenal started with Danny Welbeck having a low shot turned past the post by Saints’ young keeper with 240 seconds gone. The resulting corner saw the ball recycled to Lucas Perez who fired low across goal - just too far forward for an alert Theo Walcott to latch onto.
With the visitors from North London looking to exploit any hangover from the home side’s splendid League Cup exploits in eclipsing Liverpool this week to reach a Wembley final, the lively Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain fired narrowly wide moments later.
The warning was not heeded as Lucas Perez fed a fit-again Welbeck running into the box from the right flank. The talented 26-year-old showed composure as well as anticipation in lifting the ball over an onrushing Lewis to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal.
The goal was celebrated with passion by his teammates, not just because it put their team a goal ahead - but because of comradely understanding and empathy in acknowledging the long, lonely battle the former Manchester United player has gone through in his rehabilitation following his long-term injury at Manchester City in May 2016.
Four minutes later his struck his second after a following up a long ball from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
If his first touch with his right foot in attempting to tame the ball was slightly rusty his second, with his left showed his speed of thought and awareness was as sharp as it has ever been – for it wasn’t a touch to control, it was a quick-witted shot to slot the ball past the unfortunate Lewis to make it 2-0.
Moments later Shane Long had a powerful volley saved by Ospina but it was a rare moment of Saints threat in an otherwise dominant Arsenal performance.
On 37 minutes the game was as good as over as former Saint Theo Walcott netted Arsenal’s third as he got in ahead of young Sam McQueen.
The 4,700 travelling fans in the away end – voices no doubt lubricated by an enjoyable afternoon spent in the city’s hostelries prior to the second late Saturday kick-off in two rounds - sung loudly of a hoped-for trip to Wembley in May.
There’s a lot of work ahead if they are to reach that goal – but no-one from North London was talking of fixture pile-ups, or this trophy being an irritant.
As Kieran Gibbs and Rob Holding told this correspondent during an interview at the club’s training ground London Colney this week, the FA Cup is silverware very much in the team’s sights.
Southampton might be planning for a richly-deserved visit to Wembley in the League Cup final next month, but as referee Kevin Friend blew his whistle for half time, no-one at this homely club was expecting a repeat in the FA Cup.
With the atmosphere understandably muted as the second half commenced – bar the away end – Arsenal continued to show their supremacy.
With fewer than 25 minutes remaining Welbeck took the acclaim of the away support as boss Bould took him off. With such a demanding February to come, it was rather surprising his replacement was none other than Alexis Sanchez.
While it is so refreshing to see a player so in love with the game he wants to play every minute of every game, questions were raised as to why he was brought on – certainly with Watford in the league waiting for them on Tuesday.
The lively Sanchez had a hand in his team’s fourth goal on 68 minutes as he worked the ball towards Walcott, who fired the ball low into the far corner to end the game as a contest. Walcott’s fifth with minutes remaining saw him net a hattrick as wags rechristened him Trio-Waloctt.
Although, you could, if you were being cruel, have said the contest was over the moment Arsenal’s first goal went in on four minutes.
As the game petered out both teams will have bigger challenges on their mind – but for Arsenal – and Steve Bould, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott – it was a good result, and a good day.
Lewis, Clasie, Gardos, Long (Redmond, 64), Martina, Reed, Holbjerg, Stephens, Isgrove (Tadic, 64) , McQueen, Sims
Ospina, Gibbs, Perez, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Holding, Mustafi, Welbeck (Sanchez, 64), Bellerin, Reine-Adelaide (Iwobi, 71) Maitland-Niles