ON TARGET: Olivier Giroud after scoring Arsenal's second goal against Lincoln
IT TOOK Arsenal some 45 minutes to be competitive but when they did the men in red and white were by some way too good for Lincoln City in the quarter-final of the FA Cup (March 11).
The Gunners struck five times and could have had a hatful more but as it is they can now prepare for another FA Cup semi next month.
Arsenal fielded a strong side with the FA Cup the only realistic chance of glory this term. The hosts were suffering their usual pre-spring meltdown after a series of performances that have been dire to say the least.
Fan protests were the order of the day and the pressure on Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was the most intense it has been in his two decades at the club.
After the 5-1 drubbing by Bayern Munich in midweek the non League side were perfect fodder for the Gunners.
Prior to kick-off the Emirates Stadium press room was full and buzzing with anticipation. The intrigue stemmed not so much from City’s challenge but the Arsenal manager’s future.
As was their right, Lincoln fans were enjoying the day out in north London. On the hottest day of the year they were looking to make things intense for the Gunners.
Lincoln are the first non-league side to be in the last eight of the FA Cup since QPR in 1913/14. This is the furthest they've ever gone in the competition. And it was easy to see why they were tearing up the record books.
There was nothing between the two sides for most of the opening skirmishes. All credit to the away side for turning up in confident mood and not fearing Arsenal’s big guns.
Ref for the today was Anthony Taylor who was infamously pushed by Wenger recently which resulted in a touchline ban for the French coach.
There was an early bloody nose for home defender Shkodran Mustafi, the question was could the National League outfit stick one in the eye of their illustrious opponents?
The 300th game at the Emirates saw Arsenal with the first early chance with Aaron Ramsey firing wide with a right foot drive after good set up by right-back Hector Bellerin. Next City ‘keeper Paul Farman, all in pink, deflected a Theo Walcott drive onto the post.
But it was not all Arsenal. Petr Cech was called into action after a positive run by Nathan Arnold.
Wenger’s men did not get out of second gear all half but sub Mesut Ozil nearly did for keeper Farman who misread the German’s lofted pass cum shot with the result that the City custodian crashed into his post while conceding a corner.
Relief was obvious towards the end of the half when Walcott, after a melee in the City box, was assisted by Kieran Gibbs and placed his shot into the bottom right hand corner of the Lincoln net.
The Gunners came out early for the second half, no doubt with a flea or a slightly bigger insect in their ear from the much maligned manager.
The ball was now being moved much quicker by the Wenger boys and Olivier Giroud had a shot saved by the competent Farman while Gibbs could only head the rebound over the bar.
But Giroud was to make amends just minutes later. After a neat one-two between Alexis Sanchez and Bellerin saw the right-back pass for the Gunners front man to fire home with his right foot in the 53rd minute.
Five minutes later Arsenal’s third came via a Luke Waterfall own goal after the busy Gibbs’ cross deflected off the City defender.
Thereafter Alexis and Ramsey rammed home their team’s advantage in what was now a one-sided affair.
Enormous credit goes to Lincoln who can now concentrate on returning to the English Football League after this drubbing.
Arsenal fans can now look forward to their day at Wembley while the debate over Wenger’s future will no doubt rage on until the season’s end.
Wenger has now taken Arsenal to the sixth round stage 13 times, progressing to the semi-final on 11 occasions.
Will winning the famous competition be enough to keep him in a job? Only time will tell.