Wed, Feb 22, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Arsenal grind out win against Sutton

RELENTLESS:Despite a 105-place difference between the two teams, minnows Sutton maintained pressure throughout the match that Wenger called ‘astonishing’

AP, SUTTON, England

Sutton United’s Roarie Deacon, right, kicks the ball past Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi in their FA Cup fifth-round match at Gander Green Lane in Sutton, England, on Monday.

Photo: AP

Relief for Arsenal, pride for Sutton United.

On the plastic patch at tiny Gander Green Lane stadium, the gulf in class between teams separated by 105 places in the English soccer pyramid but pitted against each other in the FA Cup was not always apparent.

Arsenal were not simply allowed to stroll into the quarter-finals by their fifth-tier hosts, playing the biggest game in their 118-year history.

Arsenal on Monday took 26 minutes to break through the dogged resistance, and then only winning 2-0.

“If you are 2-0 down, you don’t want to get really hurt,” Sutton manager Paul Doswell said. “The players should feel very proud. The problem in sport is when you have lost, you feel disappointed, but they put this club on a worldwide map.”

If global viewers tuned in for a cup giant-killing, they did not get it, but neither did they witness a rough humiliation for the south London side.

Apart from picking the ball out of his net twice, Sutton goalkeeper Ross Worner, a part-time picture framer for a sports memorabilia company who supports Arsenal, had few saves to make.

Worner was beaten only by Lucas Perez, a 20 million euro (US$21.1 million) signing last year, and Theo Walcott, who turned the ball in from Nacho Monreal’s cross 10 minutes into the second half for his 100th Arsenal goal.

Far from being in awe of a side of millionaire international players who arrived with personal bodyguards, Sutton constantly harried in the pursuit of a goal, and seized on misplaced passes by Arsenal players on an unfamiliar surface in front of 5,000 mostly standing fans.

Defeat would have been unthinkable for Arsene Wenger following a 5-1 loss at Bayern Munich in the Champions League, which cast fresh doubt on the Arsenal manager’s future.

Having avoided embarrassment, the 12-time FA Cup winners are to face another fifth-tier side in the last eight. However, there will not be another tricky trip into unfamiliar territory, with 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium staging Lincoln City next month.

However, Wenger is now more than aware just what a challenge a team from England’s National League can pose.

“That was astonishing,” Wenger said. “They never stopped going until the end, and compared to 20 years ago, these teams are fit now and can play at the pace of the Premier League.”

Sutton, 17th in the National League, were mobbed by their fans who invaded the field, having completed the game with their dignity more than intact.

“They kept going,” Wenger said. “We were never really in a position where we could really afford to have a little breather.”

Far from sitting camped inside their own half to frustrate Arsenal, Sutton ensured goalkeeper David Ospina would have to remain constantly alert. Only the crossbar denied Roarie Deacon, a former Arsenal youth team player, and captain Jamie Collins, a part-time construction worker, angled his header from a corner just too high.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Sutton’s tenacity was Wenger bringing top-scorer Alexis Sanchez on in the second half.

“When I looked at my lads at 70 minutes and Sanchez has come on, it was a wonderful thing, but I knew how tired they were,” Doswell said. “It was quite a cruel thing to do.”

And yet, even with Sanchez on the pitch, the Chilean Copa America winner could not net a 21st goal of the season.

“We could not afford a light team selection, and that is why I came with basically all the players who were available, because we couldn’t afford to go out,” Wenger said.

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