Arsenal needed a late goal to defeat Preston North End 2-1 in third round action in the FA Cup.
The Guardians Paul Wilson wrote: Arsenal flirted with danger before coming from behind to win a hugely entertaining Cup tie, proving in the process that the game of two halves is a cliche that can occasionally be descriptive. They were well on top even before Olivier Giroud’s late winner but put in such a disjointed first half performance that the Championship side could easily have turned round two or three in front.
Perhaps Arsenal would still have come back, they seem quite good at recoveries these days, though it is the lapses in defensive concentration to keep going behind in the first place that must worry Arsène Wenger.
Preston gave a tremendous account of themselves in the first half, and hung on grittily to almost secure a replay in the second, though will forever wonder how Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson missed inviting early chances to put the Gunners under real pressure.
Wenger admitted he had been angry at the interval. “We are in the Premier League and we were being dominated,” he said. “I didn’t want to go home and be out of the FA Cup tonight.” That has never happened to Wenger, who has yet to make a third round exit, but the most successful manager the Cup has seen knew this was an escape. “I would like to congratulate Preston for the way they played, they caused us many problems and we had to dig deep,” he said. “The only positive at half time was that we were only one goal down. I would also like to thank Olivier Giroud for another late comeback. He kept his focus when he wasn’t in the team, he showed me his qualities and that’s why I made him captain.”
The home side got off to an ideal start. The Preston manager, Simon Grayson, had given Aiden McGeady a huge billing in the buildup, talking of his quick feet and licence to run at opponents with the ball, and the Everton loanee lit up a foggy Deepdale after just seven minutes. Cutting inside to beat one defender then bamboozling Aaron Ramsey with a pirouette that brought a gasp of admiration from the crowd, McGeady looked up to find the Arsenal back line also admiring his footwork and lost no time in moving the ball inside Nacho Monreal for Robinson to open the scoring after Hugill’s attempt was blocked.
The same combination almost struck again midway through the first half, with McGeady opening up Arsenal through the middle then sending Paul Gallagher on an overlap only for Robinson to see a header stopped on the line from the eventual cross. Arsenal were in the sort of disarray that saw them go three goals down to Bournemouth, and Preston really should have gone two up within half an hour after creating then spurning a marvellous opportunity in front of goal. This time it was Robinson teeing up Hugill for what ought to have been a simple tap-in with the Arsenal defence shredded and David Ospina hopelessly exposed, yet though Robinson put his ball across the six-yard line in exactly the right place he perhaps put a little too much pace on the pass and his partner was unable to reach it. Preston had all the time and space they needed to double their lead, though just lacked a little composure at a crucial moment.
Ben Pearson brought a save from Ospina with a fierce shot from distance before Arsenal even began to look like getting back into the game, Paul Huntington and Chris Maxwell combining to halt a Ramsey dribble in the area when the Welshman seemed more likely to score. A minute after that Giroud put too much weight on a cross that should have allowed Alex Iwobi to equalise. Preston had been warned, yet they still went close to a second goal before the interval when Gallagher’s lob over Ospina had to be cleared off the line by Monreal. The inexperienced Ainsley Maitland-Niles was having a tough time trying to mark McGeady but stuck to his task well, preventing one cross from the left before Preston put the ball in the net from Gallagher’s cross from the other flank, only to be recalled for a foul on the goalkeeper by Huntington.
It was a lively Cup tie and any complaints about it being a little one-sided were answered when Arsenal equalised right at the start of the second half. Less than a minute had elapsed after the restart when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sent over a cross from the left that Preston never properly cleared, leaving Ramsey to make room for a shot and beat Maxwell with a rising drive from the edge of the area for his first goal of the season.
Arsenal were such a different proposition in the second half it was tempting to wonder what they had been playing at in the first. Suddenly Preston were struggling to get out of their own half and the visitors were moving the ball around with their usual pace and precision.
Gabriel was booked for an ugly foul on Hugill before his defensive partner Mustafi came close to putting Arsenal in front, meeting a corner at the near post but finding Maxwell equal to his effort. Giroud swept in a cross from an offside position as Arsenal stepped up their attempts to find a winner in the final 15 minutes.
When it finally arrived with only a minute of normal time to spare it was Giroud who provided it, clipping a shot inside Maxwell’s post from close range via a slight deflection after Lucas Pérez had set up the opportunity with a neat back-heel to keep the ball in play. Danny Welbeck was on the field at that point, making his first appearance in eight months as Arsenal sought to avoid a replay. He came through unscathed, even bringing a save from Maxwell with a rasping stoppage-time shot, and Arsenal will be as relieved about that as they were over Giroud’s late winner.
The manner of defeat was cruel on Preston, who have been sandbagged in the last minute in their last two home games. “We made Arsenal look very ordinary in the first half, but at the top level you have to take your chances,” Grayson said. We didn’t get the second goal when we were on top.”