BRIGHTON, January 26 – Arsene Wenger believes the weekend’s series of FA Cup shocks represent a “warning” for his Arsenal side.
The Cup-holders avoided joining several other Premier League clubs in making a surprise fourth-round exit with a 3-2 win away to second-tier Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday that booked their place in the last 16.
Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and the brilliant Tomas Rosicky all scored for Arsenal, ensuring strikes from Brighton’s Chris O’Grady and Sam Baldock to make it 2-1 and then 3-2 respectively did little more than cause a few extra nerves for the visitors.
Arsenal are now one of just a handful of elite Premier League teams in Monday’s fifth-round draw, after Chelsea amazingly lost 4-2 to third-tier Bradford City and Manchester City were eliminated following a 2-0 defeat by Brighton’s divisional rivals Middlesbrough.
Wenger said he “couldn’t believe” those results and had to check them twice, but acknowledged they made his side favourites for the trophy alongside Manchester United, who have still to overcome fourth division Cambridge United in a replay, even if he was reluctant to look too far ahead.
– Wake-up call –
“I think the results were a bit of sub-conscious warning for us,” Wenger said after a tense finish to Sunday’s Cup tie on the south coast.
“It woke us up a bit. I thought the results showed our game today would be different. But when you first see the results you have to check them twice and then you think ‘oh’.
“With yesterday’s (Saturday’s) results, you would be a bit cautious. The Cup is the Cup,” added the veteran French manager, who has won the trophy five times during his Arsenal career.
“What you want is to focus on the next round and go through. We have good experience from last season to know that every round is difficult. The most difficult games weren’t the expected ones. We will fight and we want to retain our Cup.
“We will be one of the favourites because (Manchester) United will go through and some other Premier League clubs will go through but you can’t predict who will win it,” Wenger said.
Meanwhile, Wenger was optimistic Arsenal would sign defender Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal, expressing confidence the deal would go through “overnight”, despite the Brazilian’s work permit issues.
Arsenal could maybe have done with a bit more protection at the back against Brighton, except for the fact the north London club’s attack was so scintillating.
Theo Walcott put Arsenal ahead within just two minutes, with his angled strike — the England winger’s first goal in over a year, after suffering so much time in the sidelines with a cruciate injury.
Mesut Ozil then added his first goal since a knee injury in October, making it 2-0 in the 24th minute.
O’Grady did cause some panic when firing into the bottom corner just after half-time, but Rosicky lashed home on just shy of the hour to cap a supreme individual performance, ensuring Baldock’s 75th-minute effort did little more than keep a bit of life in the match.
Wenger was just one of many at Brighton’s Amex Stadium thrilled by Rosicky’s display.
“Wonderful, a player we all love,” he enthused. “If you love football, you love Rosicky.
“On top of that, he is a fantastic character. He scored, I’m pleased for him.”
Brighton manager Chris Hughton felt his team might have had a late penalty for a Callum Chambers handball in the box, but couldn’t dispute the end result.
“You can’t afford to give them (Arsenal) that time and space, the first goal was a reflection of that,” Hughton said. “But we showed great spirit.”