It was difficult to know how Arsenal were going to approach their FA Cup third round tie with Sunderland as, despite being the holders and looking for an historic third FA Cup win in a row, it is down the priorities list given where the Gunners sit in the league table and there seeming to be a concerted effort to target the Premier League this season. Arsene Wenger had to make some changes to keep some key players fresh ahead of some important league games, so it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see Arsenal let the FA Cup drift away this season.
But, Arsene Wenger has a proud record in the tournament, and despite making some changes, the Gunners fielded a strong line-up and produced a good performance to see off Sunderland with the same scoreline as they achieved against the Mackems in the league last month, and there were the same goalscorers in a repeat 3-1 win.
Arsenal had to work hard to break Sunderland down, and the game was quite even for periods as the visitors fielded a side that was stronger than expected following Sam Allardyce’s quotes during the week about the need to make changes. When the goals did come though, they all had classic hallmarks of what Arsene Wenger likes to see from his team. The passing was incisive, the movement was quick and the finishing was clinical.
The Gunners did have to come from behind though as a rare defensive lapse from Laurent Koscielny occurred in the first half. He was tackled on the edge of penalty area by Jermain Lens, who thumped the ball past Cech to give Sunderland the lead. It was a weak pass back to Koscielny by Kieran Gibbs, but the Frenchman tried to do too much with the ball and got caught out.
Having got the lead, Sunderland were all too happy to take opportunities to take time out of the game, so it was important for Arsenal to get back into the game quickly. The visitors were only ahead for nine minutes before Joel Campbell finished off an excellent forward move from the Gunners down the left. Theo Walcott drove towards the by-line and cut the ball back well towards the penalty spot, and Campbell timed his run well from the right to calmly finish into the bottom corner.
The goal was the high point of a very good performance from Campbell, who is growing into this Arsenal squad. I don’t think he’ll ever be the first choice in one of the three front positions, but he is an excellent option to have and a useful man to call upon when others are unavailable. When he first broke into the side earlier in the season, there seemed to be a lack of trust from other players to give Campbell the ball, but now he is regularly used in the sweeping attacking moves and he’s becoming more consistent.
The other impressive peformer going forward was Alex Iwobi. Given a first senior start at the Emirates, Iwobi was keen to get on the ball and looked to be involved. He also played with his head up and looked to make driving runs forward from midfield. Considering he was tasked with playing in the Ozil position behind the main striker, Iwobi did well to stamp his own style of play on proceedings.
He did tire though, so it wasn’t a surprise to see Iwobi replaced by Aaron Ramsey with 25 minutes to go with the scores at 1-1. With returning captain Mikel Arteta also brought on to hold in midfield, Ramsey was freed up to make his charging runs forward from midfield, and this paid off for Arsene Wenger as the Welshman put Arsenal in front soon afterwards.
Joel Campbell was at the heart of things again for Arsenal as he was part of a one-two with Hector Bellerin that put the Spaniard into space towards the by-line before Bellerin played the ball across towards the six-yard box. Ramsey timed his run perfectly and deftly glided the ball into the far corner past the goalkeeper.
Hector Bellerin then showed his creative side again as he charged forward down the right and got on the end of an excellent chipped pass wide from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Bellerin was patient before threading a fantastic pass across the box for Olivier Giroud to slide the ball into the net for 3-1. While he still has things to develop in his game defensively, he adds a lot to Arsenal going forward and, if he wants to, Bellerin could be the Arsenal right-back for many years to come.
The win could have been even more comfortable had the referee spotted Olivier Giroud being wiped out by Yedlin as he was about to shoot inside the penalty area, but somehow Martin Atkinson came to the decision that it wasn’t a foul.
Overall though, it was a job well done, especially given the players that didn’t play for either being rested or injured. To win by scoring three lovely goals without Alexis, Ozil, Cazorla et al was very encouraging, and was a great way to start the cup defence.