Arsenal cruise to FA Cup Quarter-Final after Plowing past Pompey at Fratton park
By Daniel Finton
After a surprising elimination from the Europa League on Thursday night, the gunners limited the week's agony by breezing past League One side Portsmouth in the FA Cup. Mikel Arteta’s most realistic chance of qualifying for the Champions league had been thrashed last week, and the away game to Pompey was a good opportunity for the side to galvanise themselves and find a way into the quarter-finals of a competition. Despite the shaky and somewhat difficult first half, the thirteen time FA Cup winners did manage a positive result, knocking Portsmouth out at Fratton Park, after showcasing their professionalism in the second half.
Coming into the fifth round tie, Portsmouth had not beaten Arsenal since 1958. Arteta opted for a much changed side from the one that crashed out at the Emirates just 4 nights ago. Nine changes occurred, with only David Luiz and Bukayo Saka remaining in the starting eleven. Emiliano Martinez notably got the nod over Bernd Leno, while Pablo Mari was rewarded with his debut for the club. Youngsters such as Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock were brought back into the fold, whilst Reiss Nelson was given a rare start. The lineup was an inexperienced one to say the least, but one that indicated Arteta was aware that many of his players needed rests after enduring 120 minutes against Olympiacos.
The first half was how one could have assumed it would be. Portsmouth’s atmosphere made things difficult for the gunners to get any kind of grip of the game, with the poor checker-boarded pitch not helping the flow of our passing.
The feisty crowd's passion contributed to the first forty five’s cagey theme. The third placed league one side created a higher quantity of chances in the first half than Areta’s men, but Arsenal did well to keep these to relatively speculative efforts. The team in blue put us under pressure for large portions of the game in the first period, but failed to capitalise on this pressure.
Lucas Torreira was unfortunately stretchered off in the 15th minute of play after a fair, but aggressive challenge from the central defender, Bolton. Dani Ceballos came on for the Uruguayan and throughout his seventy-five minute performance, he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the ruggedness of the game. Despite the number of chances for the opposition, Portsmouth really never troubled Martinez or the defence too much, smashing most of their opportunities far wide or high off the mark. Sokratis then managed the one and only goal of the first half, neatly volleying home an accurate cross from Nelson.
The second half induced far less anxiety onto Arsenal and the support. Nketiah smashed home a scrappy goal just six minutes into it, which enabled the gunners to go into cruise control for the majority of the remainder of the affair, leaving Portsmouth and their supporters deflated. Barring a few half chances for each side, the second half was far more controlled than the first half. The Gunners easily pushed aside the league one outfit, booking themselves a spot in the 6th round of the FA Cup.
Mari and those in the back four did not have too much to do defensively on the day, given the incredible possession stats seeing us dictating the play. We retained the ball for 73% of the match. Nonetheless, the Spanish debutant is surely delighted with getting a clean sheet on his debut for the club.
The Hale end youngsters, Nelson and Nketiah, each directly contributed on the attacking end, registering two assists and a goal respectively, to see their side into the final eight of the competition.
Arsenal return to Premier League action on Saturday afternoon as they take on West Ham in a London derby. A game that is destined to provide them with more difficulties than Portsmouth did, even with the hammers struggling at the foot of the table. In football there's a cliche that states: “you can only beat what is in front of you”, and Arteta’s men did so in an impressively professional manner on the day. Now they must do the same against the Hammers at the Emirates.