Arsenal produced a stirring fight back in the final twenty minutes of an otherwise unconvincing showing at Upton Park, scoring twice to condemn Premiership strugglers West Ham to elimination from the FA Cup.
The Hammers’ took the lead through Alessandro Diamanti’s strike following a well executed run to catch out the defence of a Gunners’ side featuring five changes from Wednesday nights 4-1 thumping of Portsmouth.
Arsenal continued their sub-par showing until Welsh prodigy Aaron Ramsey equalised on 78 minutes, turning brilliantly and sweeping the ball past Robert Green.
Eduardo then glanced over Green with a superbly taken header, just five minutes after Ramsey’s equaliser.
Arsene Wenger had looked set to taste defeat in the third round for the first time during his incredible 13-year reign at the club, which has seen him lift the coveted trophy four times as Arsenal manager. But the introduction of in-form French duo Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri turned the contest in favour of visitors, as West Ham’s resistance crumbled during the closing stages.
The turnaround was all the more remarkable given that Arsenal’s starting XI had somewhat of a ‘Carling Cup’ look to it; Lukasz Fabianski, Jack Wilshere, Fran Merida and Carlos Vela all came into a youthful looking side as Wenger rested his key players during a traditionally congested period of the football calendar.
The inexperience showed from the outset as the Gunners’ struggled to get a foothold in the game, rarely threatening Robert Green’s goal during a stale opening 45-mintues that featured little more than half chances for the visitors.
The Hammers’ were resolute and industrious throughout the first half, creating several chances – one of which producing a noteworthy one-handed save from Lukasz Fabianski who has his eyes dead set on Manuel Almunia’s starting spot between the sticks.
Valon Behrami, possibly the most influential player on the pitch in the first half, was the architect of the opening goal which raised question marks over the Gunners’ defending yet again.
The Swiss’ throughball was collected by Diamanti who sprung past a backline wrongly claiming offside. The Italian then slotted past Fabianski, giving the Hammers’ a deserved lead at the break.
When the teams emerged for the second half Arsenal’s attempts at a response to Diamanti’s strike were tepid at best, with the home side continuing to dominate in front of a fervent crowd that scented success after drawing first blood.
Full debutant Frank Nouble fired wide of the mark before Junior Stanislas drew Fabianski into action once again – the Pole stretching well to deny the young winger’s rifled attempt.
The quality of Arsenal’s bench shone through, though, as the ineffective Merida and Wilshere were replaced by Diaby and Nasri, who transformed the contest into a rather more familiar exhibition of what Arsene Wenger’s footballing philosophy is all about.
Fluency and intricacy replaced the rather uncharacteristically disorganised shadows that had chased the Hammers for the majority of the tie, as white shirts poured forwards into the attacking third of the pitch.
The persistance almost paid instant dividends as Green enhanced his chances of making Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad, saving brilliantly first from Diaby, and then from Alex Song, as the Gunners piled on the pressure.
Green could do little about the equaliser though, as a typical Arsenal passing move untangled the West Ham defence, allowing Aaron Ramsey to collect the final ball from Carlos Vela and slot sweetly into the bottom corner of the England ‘keepers goal.
Mexican striker Vela was involved again in the build up to the second goal after a switch to the left flank made the 20-year old a far more prominent figure. His driven cross from the wing was met by Eduardo, who’s looping header left Green beaten for the second time in five minutes, wrapping up a thrilling comeback which had looked highly unlikely for three quarters of the match.
Arsenal will now meet Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium in the fourth round of the tournament, and can close the gap on Premiership leaders Chelsea to a solitary point on Wednesday when they meet managerless Bolton at the Emirates Stadium.
Gianfranco Zola will be able to take an abundance of positives from a committed and battling display, which, if they can recreate in the Premiership, will surely translate into survival.
WEST HAM 1 (Diamanti 45)
Team: Green, Upson, Tomkins, Daprela, Kovac, Jimenez, Faubert, Behrami, Stanislas (Edgar 87), Nouble (Sears 79), Diamanti
Unused Subs: Stech, Da Costa, Ngala, Lee, Payne
ARSENAL 2 (Ramsey 78, Eduardo 83)
Team: Fabianski, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre, Wilshere (Nasri 65), Song, Merida (Diaby 65), Ramsey, Vela, Eduardo
Unused Subs: Mannone, Traore, Gilbert, Eastmond, Emmanuel-Thomas
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