Arsenal’s season of woe took another miserable turn on Saturday as the Premier League giants crashed out of the FA Cup in a 2-0 defeat at Sunderland.
Arsenal — all but eliminated from the Champions League in midweek following a 4-0 rout by AC Milan — saw their last realistic chance of ending a seven-year trophy drought snuffed out at the Stadium of Light.
Kieran Richardson took advantage of a poor clearance to lash in Sunderland’s opener in the 40th minute, before more shoddy Arsenal play culminated in a 77th-minute own-goal by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The defeat means Arsene Wenger’s side are left with only qualification for next season’s Champions League to play for this season and it provides further ammunition for Arsene Wenger’s growing legion of critics.
Wenger had uncharacteristically criticized his players in public following the Milan defeat and he demanded a response against Sunderland.
However, Wenger’s men were always struggling to impose themselves as Martin O’Neill’s team advanced to the quarter-finals with an energetic display.
“I felt we were a bit unlucky. It was a 100 percent performance from us and their first shot was a goal. Then we had to chase the game, take a gamble and they caught us on the break for the second goal,” Wenger said. “We had a lot of possession, but didn’t create a lot of because of some fantastic defending by Sunderland.”
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas’ problems mounted after his side labored to a 1-1 draw with second-tier Birmingham City.
Daniel Sturridge headed home a second-half equalizer to save Chelsea’s blushes at a restive Stamford Bridge after David Murphy had fired Birmingham into a shock lead on 20 minutes.
Villas-Boas’ position has come under scrutiny following reports of a training ground mutiny by his senior players after last weekend’s Premier League defeat to Everton at Goodison Park.
His team have now won just one game in their past six in all competitions and Villas-Boas was forced to watch as his side were booed off the field following another unconvincing display.
“It is a poor result of course. We had a better performance in the second half compared to the first half,” Villas-Boas said afterwards. “One-one is not what we expected, but it gives us another chance at Birmingham as we try to win a trophy.”
Villas-Boas insisted he enjoyed “unconditional” support from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
Elsewhere in the round-of-16, second-tier Leicester City claimed a Premier League scalp as David Nugent’s second-half winner clinched a 2-1 victory at Norwich City.
Nigel Pearson’s team made the perfect start through Irish defender Sean St Ledger, who headed in Ben Marshall’s corner in the fifth minute.
Norwich equalized in the 23rd minute when Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel gave away a penalty with a foul on Elliott Bennett. Schmeichel saved Wes Hoolahan’s spot-kick, but he could not prevent the midfielder scoring from the rebound.
However, Nugent gave Leicester victory when the former England striker latched onto Jermaine Beckford’s flick and fired home in the 71st minute.
Japanese teenager Ryo Miyaichi inspired Bolton Wanderers as the struggling Premier League side brushed aside second-tier Millwall 2-0 at The Den.
Owen Coyle’s team, beaten semi-finalists last season, are second bottom of England’s top flight, but they quickly took control in south London as on loan Arsenal midfielder Miyaichi marked his first Wanderers start by sweeping a high finish past Steve Mildenhall in the fourth minute.