Arguably this was the hardest match of the draw especially as Southampton have been our bogey team of late. They knocked us out of the EFL Cup so we had to be at our best to progress into the 5th round.
Fortunately we were at our best and then some as we produced arguably our best performance of the season. As usual in the cup it was basically our second team with perhaps Bellerin and Mustafi the only definite first teamers. But it just shows our squad’s strength in depth this season as many of the players could easily play in the first team.
We welcomed back Walcott who would arguably be in the first team when fit as well as Welbeck who was making his first start since late last season (265 days to be exact). They made up an exciting looking front three which included Lucas Perez who deserved his chance. Oxlade-Chamberlain played in a more central role which really suited him along with youngsters Maitland-Niles and Reine-Adelaide meaning the midfield three all had double barrelled names!
Ospina, Holding and captain for the day Gibbs made up the starting eleven but we did have Alexis Sanchez and Iwobi on the bench if needed. Club captain Mertesacker was also on the bench after coming back from a long term injury. This meant basically that our whole team apart from Cazorla wasn’t seriously injured for once!
Southampton also had their second team playing as well but still looked like they would cause us some problems. This wasn’t really the case at all though as we started the game very well and opened the scoring after just 15 minutes through Welbeck getting his first goal of the season after a great assist from Perez. It was a clinical finish from a striker that possesses everything in my opinion – he just needs to stay fit which hopefully he will for once. He even celebrated with a ‘Salt Bae’ celebration which is all over social media.
‘Dat guy Welbz’ added a second about 7 minutes after from a sensational pass from Chamberlain as he managed to control the long ball and then slot it past the keeper. I felt so pleased for Welbeck and hopefully he can continue this form.
We didn’t stop there as another Englishman in Walcott made it 3-0 about 10 minutes before half time. This was another great move as Perez and Welbeck combined well once again before the latter passed it across goal for Walcott to get in front of his man and poke home to virtually put the tie to bed. It ended 3-0 at half time and it was one of the most comfortable and enjoyable halves I have ever witnessed as an Arsenal fan.
The second half was no different as we dominated but we didn’t even have to play that well being 3-0 up. We were cruising until Wenger (who was in the stands) told assistant manager Steve Bould to bring on the subs. This included Sanchez who made an immediate impact. It took him just four minutes to provide an assist for Walcott’s second goal of the game and this was followed by another one near the end to help Walcott get his hat trick. It was Walcott’s fifth hat trick for the club and only nine players have scored more in the club’s history.
The game finished 5-0 which I didn’t expect at all and it was also a great performance. Walcott and Welbeck got the goals but I thought Chamberlain and Maitland-Niles were very impressive in the middle dictating the play and Perez also played well once again. Wenger has a lot to think about in terms of the starting line up if everyone stays fit which is a big ‘if’!
So we are through to the next round of the cup and await the draw where hopefully we will avoid the big guns but even if we do get one of them I think we have a great chance of winning the FA Cup once again this season. Next up is Watford at home in the league on Tuesday which I’m going to where we will look to continue to put the pressure on Chelsea who face a tough match against Liverpool away on the same day.
If we win and they lose we will only be 5 points behind them before we play them next Saturday lunchtime which will be our biggest game of the season where a win would put us right back into the title race!