Walcott offers Wenger respite

His milestone goal helps under-fire Gunners see off a spirited Sutton side in the FA Cup

LONDON • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his team would have faced FA Cup humiliation against non-league Sutton United had they shown less application in their fifth-round victory.

Arsenal won 2-0 in Monday's tie at Sutton's 5,000-strong Gander Green Lane ground, but they were given a real run for their money by a team ranked 105 places below them in the English league system.

Goals from Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott - the latter's 100th in Arsenal's colours - earned the visitors victory. But Sutton pushed them until the end, even hitting the bar through former Arsenal trainee Roarie Deacon.

Asked if it had merely been a case of "job done", Wenger replied: "Yes, against a side that was astonishing.

"It is basically division five and they are 17th out of 24. I will never go down there (to manage) because it is too difficult.

"We had to keep our focus. I must give credit to the players who were professional and kept their focus.

Arsenal forward Theo Walcott fighting with Sutton midfielder Bedsente Gomis for the ball. He scored his 100th goal for the Gunners when he netted in the 55th minute.
Arsenal forward Theo Walcott fighting with Sutton midfielder Bedsente Gomis for the ball. He scored his 100th goal for the Gunners when he netted in the 55th minute. PHOTO: REUTERS

"If we had come here in a relaxed mood, we would have gone out tonight because they produced quality. They kept going and we were never really in a position where we could afford to have a little breather in the game."

The Frenchman made seven changes to the side that were drubbed 5-1 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League - a result which has left his long-term future at Arsenal in doubt.

But the blending of several full internationals with a handful of fringe players betrayed his eagerness to avoid yet more negative headlines.

"We couldn't afford to go out tonight. We can never afford it," said Wenger, whose team will host another non-league side, Lincoln City, in the quarter-finals.

A bottle appeared to be thrown towards the dugouts at the final whistle, as fans launched a mass pitch invasion, but Wenger played down the incident.

"I don't know if it was at me or someone else or the referee, but there was a bottle thrown, yes," he said.

Sutton manager Paul Doswell condemned the unruly scenes.

"It disappointed me at the end," he said. "They don't support Sutton. Absolute idiots."

Nevertheless, he said it had been "a dream" to watch his players play against Arsenal and professed himself "very, very proud" of their efforts.

Sutton had previously overcome fourth-tier Cheltenham Town, third-tier AFC Wimbledon and second-tier Leeds United.

The club estimate the Cup run has been worth £1 million (S$1.77 million) to them, which will be used to renovate the Gander Green Lane clubhouse.

First and foremost, however, Doswell wants to make sure his side avoid sliding even further down the English football pyramid.

Asked what the Cup run meant to Sutton, he said: "A legacy for the club, that allows them to go and put right all the things they wanted to put right.

"We've got to get safe in the National League to have really had a good season...

"Everything inside, all the toilets, everything you'd want your house to look like, we're going to put our house in order. It won't be spent on players."

Arsenal have pledged to put £50,000 towards two community classrooms, which Doswell said was "an amazing gesture".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Walcott offers Wenger respite'. Print Edition | Subscribe