After a slow start, Arsenal turned up the jets to cruise to a 5-0 win over non-league club Lincoln on Saturday to advance to the semifinals of the FA Cup.
The Daily Mail:” It was their moment. Nathan Arnold knew it. Manager Danny Cowley and his brother, Nicky Cowley, knew it. The 9000 Lincoln fans, ferried here by 53 coaches and a chartered train, knew it. Arsene Wenger, with his 33 years of management experience and his current troubles, knew it.
Arnold, the former Hyde United and Alfreton Town man, had just landed Laurent Koscielny, the France international who played in the Euro 2016 final, on his backside, with a quick turn and change of pace.
Thirty minutes had passed and the game was scoreless. Arnold looked up, chose his spot and shot. The ball’s trajectory was goal-wards and it was Arnold’s misfortune that Petr Cech is a giant even among goalkeepers. Even then, he needed to be at full stretch to tip it wide. In the technical area, those Cowley brothers gasped and held their heads.
‘It was a good strike,’ reflected Danny Cowley later. ‘Those go in in the National League!’ And indeed was a good save rather than an awful miss. But, still; it was their moment.
They couldn’t be too disconsolate of course. Lincoln City have a created a lifetime’s worth of memories along the way since this adventure began as they laboured for a 0-0 draw against Guisely in the FA Cup qualifiers back in October. Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley have all been accounted for.
They will be talking about this Cup run for decades in Lincolnshire, although, given the momentum at the club, the clear ability of the Cowleys and the financial backing of South African Clive Nates, you suspect that even this joyful journey may be superseded in coming years by a rise through the leagues. League Two beckons and it seems unlikely this will be the end of their story.
For now though they can reflect on the history made this season. The first non-league team to make an FA Cup quarter final since QPR did so in the same year that the First World War broke out. They would have made Wembley had they won here.
For 45 minutes they could just retain a glimmer of that fantasy. They had enlisted Sir Clive Woodward and the Red Arrows, based at nearby RAF Scampton, to prepare for this game. It showed. The professionalism of their approach was beyond the expectation of many a club far above in football’s hierarchy. Of course, set pieces and 6′ 4′ Matt Rhead featured prominently. But they did what they had to do. And they did it rather well.
There was Bradley Wood with crucial tackles, though he would later chastise himself for allowing one of the world’s best players to skip past him on the way to goal number four. There was the man mountain, Sean Raggett, undeterred at the back and, but for his late challenge on Mesut Ozil, staying within the bounds of acceptable physicality.
Then there was his captain Luke Waterfall alongside him, organising and cajoling. Up front, working the channels with indefatigable energy was Jack Muldoon a former plaster, ably supported by Rhead, who used to work for JCB diggers. The non-league moment in the FA Cup is not meant to last until the early spring. It should be a mid-winter warmer, briefly enjoyed but quickly gone.
t couldn’t last, of course, beyond this weekend and it didn’t. ‘It felt like it brought 15 players on in the second half,’ said Cowley.’And that big clock definitely stopped at some stage because that was one hell of a 45minutes for us. There’s a reason why they earn in a week maybe double, treble what we do in year. They’re world class players. I won’t say it was great to watch because it was tough to watch. But it was a football education for sure.’
Arsenal have their own problems and the biggest compliment they paid Lincoln was their starting eleven. This was Arsenal at their strongest, other than Mesut Ozil, who started on the bench due to illness and would come on after Alex Oxlade Chamberlain pick up a first-half hamstring injury.
‘Of course I don’t want to gamble today beacsue I knew that it was very important to win the game,’ said Wenger, who continues to insist it was the referee who undid them in the 5-1 defeat against Bayern. ‘And I felt that the team had done well against Bayern and I wanted to give them the chance to find confidence back by winning the next game.
As such, their bewitching spell was finally broken as half time approached. Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud combined to tee up Theo Walcott inside the box. He struck but even then he needed the help of a massive deflection to open the scoring.
On 53 minutes, Hector Bellerin and Alexis Sanchez combined to line up Giroud for the second. It was 58 minutes when Gibbs, dashing down the line, pulled the ball back and saw Waterfall deflect it into his own net.
For fourth, on 73 minutes, Sanchez simply ran at a tired Lincoln defence, with Wood berating himself for missing his tackle, as the Chilean curled the ball into the net.
The fifth came twominutes later, Sanchez setting up Ramsey this time with a chip which the Welshman chested down and touched past Paul Farman and then fairly smashed into the net from close range.
At the end, there were understandably embraces all round. Precious Arsenal shirts were promised and the Arsenal fans, many of whom stayed to the end, stood and applauded while Lincoln’s hailed their men.
Cowley gathered his players and staff together in the grand, plush arena.
‘I wanted to get them together on the pitch because I know what ours are like,’ he said. ‘They’re winners and fighters and I knew a part of them would be hurting and I wanted to make sure they embraced the moment.
‘We will never celebrate losing, I don’t care if were playing Arsenal, but there is a reason why no non-league team has got the last eight of FA Cup for 100 years. And I felt this was the right time forour players to celebrate the moment
On Tuesday night they will be at Bootham Cresent to face York City in the FA Trophy. Reality, temporarily suspended, had prevailed once more. But as the FA Cup teaches us every year, who wants reality?