The late late show staring Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud was once again running on Saturday evening as the 30 year old Frenchman popped up in the 89th minute to latch on to Lucas Perez’s backheel to send Arsenal through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, courtesy of a 2-1 win away to Preston North End.
Arsenal were very lucky to still be in the match at half time having been run ragged by a hungrier and more determined Preston North End side that really should have been three goals ahead at the interval after completely dominating the first half and missing a clutch of chances to add to their seventh minute lead.
A Cupset looked very much on the cards in the early exchanges as the roof was blown off a packed Deepdale by Callum Robinson as the young forward made the most of a loose ball in the box after Jordan Hugill failed to control Aiden McGeady’s pass. The Irish winger, on loan from Everton, went on a mazy run in the middle of the park, producing a Johan Cryuff worthy pirouette before slipping the ball through for Hugill. The 24 year old striker failed to control the pass, the ball ran through kindly for an alert Robinson, who was quicker to it than David Ospina in the Arsenal goal, and made it 1-0 in favour of the hosts.
Arsenal got a huge slice of luck in the 20th minute as Gabriel’s attempted step up to play Callum Robinson was far too late with the forward at least a couple of yards onside, but the referee’s assistant was fooled by Gabriel and shockingly flagged him off with the goal at Preston’s mercy.
Moments later Hugill really should have doubled Preston’s lead as he and Robinson were both played through again and the latter’s cross for the former was just a tad too far in front of him when a tap in was there for the taking.
In between the two chances Mustafi got a block with his arm on a goalbound effort from Robinson, but Arsenal earned yet another reprieve.
The chances were coming thick and fast for the home side with David Ospina turning Ben Pearson’s dipping effort around for a corner before Marnick Vermijl miskicked at the far post as he attempted to meet McGeady’s inch perfect left wing cross.
At the other end of the pitch it took Arsenal past the half hour mark to really get into the Preston box, but Arsene Ramsey wasn’t given any space to shoot as he closed in on goal, while Olivier Giroud’s cross shot veered wide when either attempt would have probably brought Arsenal level with Chris Maxwell his only obstacle and Lucas Perez on his own at the far post.
The game was suddenly opening up with Nacho Monreal making a goal line clearance to deny Paul Gallagher while Ramsey’s header was straight at Maxwell.
Preston did have the ball in the back of the net a second time as half time approached, but the goal was correctly disallowed for a foul on David Ospina in the build up play. Moments later Gabriel was bleeding from the temple as the Gunners were getting a real workout by the Championship side that was showing considerably more hunger than their big name opponents.
Preston took a 1-0 lead into the break, but will look back at the game and wonder whether they really should have put the tie to bed.
Those first half misses did come back to haunt the hosts as Arsenal completely turned the game around in the second half with Aaron Ramsey scoring in the 46th minute to pick up his first goal of the season.
Preston had barely got out of the blocks as Arsenal waited them for what seemed like an age out on the pitch, and quickly got down to the business of sorting this game out. Some passes in and around the box opened up a shooting opportunity for Ramsey, who with the help of some defenders in front of him, shielded the ball from Marshall who was comfortably beaten at his near post, quite possibly not seeing the ball till it whizzed past him.
That early goal restored Arsenal’s confidence and changed the complexion of the game as the Gunners dominated the second half, both with and without the ball with Ospina not having been required to make a save of note. In fact the Colombian keeper was only really required to pluck balls out of the air and get Arsenal’s attacks back underway as the Gunners chased a goal that would give them safe passage into the next round.
Arsenal were suddenly pressing higher up the pitch and winning the ball back, but it took them till the 73rd minute to register a genuine chance as a well worked corner routine saw Shkrodan Mustafi produce an excellent half volley at the near post that was turned over his crossbar by Chris Maxwell.
A few minutes later Arsenal saw a goal of their own disallowed too with Giroud offside as he turned in Lucas Perez’s excellent pass.
With 8 minutes left on the clock, Arsene Wenger finally threw on Danny Welbeck in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who despite being better in the second half, struggled on the left wing as compared to his output on the right against Bournemouth.
With the clock ticking down the winning goal did finally arrive for Arsenal in the 89th minute with Olivier Giroud flicking the ball forward to Lucas Perez and then following up to meet the Spaniard’s backheel as he teed up the Frenchman. Giroud’s strike wasn’t the cleanest but the deflection off a Preston defender probably helped it squeeze past Maxwell at his near post.
Arsenal still had time to chase a third with Maxwell denying Welbeck a dream return by tipping his strike from distance over the bar.
In the end, Arsenal’s superior quality showed, but the Gunners were nearly punished for taking it too easy in the first half, and probably should have found themselves facing a stiffer challenge to overcome at the start of the second half had Preston taken their chances.
A relieved Arsene Wenger shared after the game, “Preston played with enthusiasm and quality in the first half, they were quicker than us all over. Maybe subconsciously we thought that it would be easier and at half-time we knew we could have been out. I believe that we have a togetherness and fighting spirit and that is why we have these comebacks. It was a typical cup tie with English enthusiasm and the crowd cheering on their team.”
Preston: Maxwell, Vermijl, Clarke, Huntington, Cunningham, Gallagher (Browne 58′), Pearson, Johnson (Horgan 80′), McGeady, Robinson, Hugill (Makienok 76′)
Arsenal: Ospina, Maitland-Niles (Holding 90+2′), Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Welbeck 82′), Iwobi, Lucas (Rene-Adelaide 90+2′), Giroud
Final Score: Preston North End 1-2 Arsenal (Robinson 7′, Ramsey 46′, Giroud 89′)