Arsenal ultimately cruised into the FA Cup fifth round with a 4-0 victory over Coventry City at the Emirates. The home side were utterly dominant in the opening half and could have had far more than the two goals, scored by Lukas Podolski after 15 and 27 minutes.
But, having looked overwhelmed early on, the League One side gave a far better account of themselves in the second half and, against an Arsenal team that took their foot clean off the gas, might have even made the fourth-round encounter a genuine contest. Yet, Leon Clarke’s shot against the post was the closest they came to punishing the Premier League leaders’ slackness before Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla came off the bench to show Coventry how it was done.
Arsene Wenger selected a fairly strong side, featuring the likes of Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. There was a first start since his return from injury for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain -- lining up in an unfamiliar midfield two alongside Wilshere. Nicklas Bendtner was also back from injury, although looking some way off the pace, and it was only after he and Oxlade-Chamberlain were taken off that Arsenal regained their momentum.
It was yet another efficient victory for Arsenal, in a season which they are producing them with unrelenting regularity, although the Arsenal boss will be keen to stress to his players that a similar loss of focus will prove costly against better opposition. Yet, no-one could have accused Arsenal of not been fully engaged early on.
Coventry manager Steven Pressley had his side training against 12 players during the week to try and prepare them for the mesmeric passing of Arsenal. But such was the intensity of Arsenal’s start that the Midlands side may well have felt like they were up against far more than just one extra man.
Coventry looked completely shell-shocked both by the occasion and their opponents as they sat deep and struggled to string more than a couple of passes together to even get out of their own half. Carl Jenkinson was heavily involved, time and again providing the extra man for his side’s attacks emerging form deep. The right-back’s cross should have led to the opening goal, but Podolski, stretching, stabbed the ball high over the crossbar.
Podolski would soon make amends. Daniel Seaborne brought Coventry’s first spell of concerted possession to an end with a careless pass in midfield and Arsenal took full and swift advantage. Ozil found his fellow Germany international Podolski in behind Coventry full-back Cyrus Christie, and the forward took it past goalkeeper Joe Murphy before slotting into the net.
Coventry at least settled somewhat after going behind and even forced Lukasz Fabianski into a smart save when he was forced to tip over a fine shot from Carl Baker. Still, Pressley’s men continued to look vulnerable, although he will have been be furious at the manner of Arsenal’s second goal. Rather than Arsenal’s beguiling passing, it was a simple corner routine that led to Coventry falling further behind. Mertesacker stooped to head on the delivery at the near-post and, with Coventry’s defenders having switched off, Podolski arrived around the back to head home.
With Podolski wasting a chance on his weaker right foot to grab a hat-trick, Coventry were able to avoid further punishment in the remainder of the half, the last few minutes of which were played out with half the Emirates lights having gone out. With lights restored, it was Arsenal who switched off at the start of the second half.
As it did against Aston Villa recently, Arsenal’s level dropped after the interval and their casualness was fortunate not to cost them at least one goal. To their credit, Coventry were playing with much more purpose and belief, yet they failed to capitalize on three fine chances.
It was the club’s top scorer this season, Clarke, who was the main culprit. First he sprung in behind the Arsenal defense and raced clear down the right, but, as he continued on, he restricted his angle and eventually shot straight at Fabianski. He did better with his next opening from a pull-back from Franck Moussa, but this time struck the outside of the post. Carl Baker should have done better, too, when blazing over after a cross dropped to his feet.
Ultimately, though, the most tangible thing the club got out of the game was the fans’ protests at being forced to watch their team play home games 35 miles away. On the pitch, Arsenal’s substitutes led to them refocusing and adding a touch of comfort to the score-line late on.
After coming off, perhaps surprisingly, coming off the bench, Giroud continued to show why he remains so important to the side and why Wenger maybe playing a risky game by not dipping into the transfer market for another striker this month. Bendtner had earlier capped a poor night by missing a clear chance, but Giroud was far more clinical as he swept home a pull back from Kieran Gibbs in the 84th minute. Cazorla finished the scoring with just over a minute of normal time remaining when he slammed a volley in after Murphy had pushed away an effort from Jenkinson.