Arsenal got off to a bright start against Brighton and Hove Albion at the Falmer Stadium but needed a little late magic from man of the match Tomas Rosicky to move on to the next round.
Arsène Wenger made 11 changes to the team which beat Man City last week. In defense, Szczesny started in goal, Gibbs left back, Monreal second left back, Koscielny third left back, and Chambers played right wing. Flamini was brought in as defensive pointer, Ramsey played somewhere, and Rosicky was charged with running all over the pitch and being all around brilliant. Up front, Giroud did his hair, Özil played like a 150lb sack of feathers, and Theo Walcott was charged with dribbling straight into opposition defenders.
Chris Houghton’s men set out to obfuscate from the start but before the ink could dry on their game plan Calum Chambers galloped up the right side, played a good cross to Theo Walcott who took a touch to set the ball and stroked across the keeper. It was all Theo would do on the day and after that goal he went for a lie down.
Still, If Albion’s plan was to defend first, they failed at that within 90 seconds.
From there everyone expected The Seagulls to come out and attack Arsenal but there was no such impetus. Instead they sat back and allowed Arsenal to run roughshod over them. In that first half, Albion played the part of Switzerland and neither defended nor countered. And to carry that analogy further, Arsenal played the part of Italy and attacked Ethiopia, and nearly lost.
Arsenal were afforded as much space as they wanted with the ball, rarely being challenged on a dribble or even closed down when they made a pass. Tomas Rosicky simply waltzed across the Albion back line and when he spotted Özil in 10 yards of space inside the box, played a clever reverse through ball to him. Özil, who had more time in the box than a Christmas present, took two touches to settle the ball before firing into the short side for Arsenal’s second.
Arsenal finished the half doing whatever they wanted to Albion and no metaphor is needed here.
Perhaps Chris Houghton had a word with his players because Albion started the second half a little more dively than the first. Calderon, in particular, dove to win a free kick (which didn’t produce a save) and then dove again in the penalty box when he felt a little nip at the heels from Koscielny. He wasn’t awarded a penalty. Just saying that in case you think he was.
Albion put a little pressure on Arsenal when Monreal’s insane clearance went from the left side of the Arsenal box to Calum Chambers, the right back. Chambers didn’t challenge for the ball and an Albion player (does it matter which one?) climbed all over his back to win the knock down. Sam Baldock, who is not an ambiturner, turned left and his “marker” Flamini was left trundling at his side as Baldock shot into the short side between Koscielny’s legs who was trying to shy away from the shot. It was a very Arsenal goal to concede.
Then the moment of the match. Arsenal had Albion pinned down in a pill box and were peppering them with fire from their Tommy gun. I was having a lie down and watching the whole event unfold from my couch, like any good officer does, and when Rosicky tackled away the ball in the Albion final third, I sat up. He then avoided a sort of tackle and made a clever no look pass to Giroud who did that thing Giroud does where he just stands the ball up for someone. That someone was Rosicky who was being marked closely by teammate Aaron Ramsey. Rosicky shrugged off his marker and hit home a brilliant volley that basically said “ICH BIN EIN BERLINER.”
(The FA took down my video)
The whole time Rosicky was being brilliant and scoring goals of the season candidates Theo Walcott was wide open on the right side of the pitch screaming for the ball. That was my favorite moment of the match.
Arsenal should have won the game easily but Arsenal doesn’t do easily. So they conceded a second goal. That forced Wenger to go to the bench and bring on Akpom, Alexis, and Coquelin. Coquelin brought a measure of calmity to the proceedings. Calmity or calmitude? Whatever, Arsenal looked more solid.
Akpom was set free twice and both times had Alexis to his right, wide open and directly in front of goal. Akpom chose to shoot both times, sadly ending his Arsenal career. Alexis then hit a series of direct free kicks into various places that weren’t the goal. Though all were pretty close!
It was the kind of performance from Rosicky that will leave many Arsenal fans wondering why he doesn’t get more playing time. Rosicky had been no-looking and back-heeling, cutting back, and slipping in balls, all day. Also running around. Tackling. Dribbling. He was just super.
Arsenal are one step closer to back to back FA Cup wins. Which, if Wenger can manage that, will leave the Wenger outers with little choice but to say that the FA Cup isn’t really a trophy. Thus debasing even their hero, George Graham.