Friday 18 August 2017

Giroud rescues Gunners after flirt with disaster

Preston North End 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud scores his side’s winner during the FA Cup third round tie at at Deepdale against Preston North End. Photo: PA
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud scores his side’s winner during the FA Cup third round tie at at Deepdale against Preston North End. Photo: PA

Paul Wilson

Arsenal flirted with danger in Preston before coming from behind to win this game. They were well on top even before Olivier Giroud's late winner but put in such a disjointed first-half performance that the Championship side could easily have turned around two or three in front.

Perhaps Arsenal would still have come back, they seem quite good as recoveries these days, though it is the lapses in defensive concentration that lead to them regularly going behind in the first place that will worry Arsene Wenger. Preston gave a tremendous account of themselves in the first 45 minutes, and hung on grittily for a replay in the second, though will forever wonder how Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson missed first-half chances to put the Gunners under real pressure.

Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Preston North End's Simon Makienok battle for possession. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Preston North End's Simon Makienok battle for possession. Photo: Reuters

The home side got off to the ideal start. Preston manager Simon Grayson had given Aiden McGeady a huge billing in the build-up, talking of his quick feet and licence to run at opponents with the ball, and the Everton loanee lit up a foggy Deepdale after just seven minutes. Cutting inside to beat one defender then bamboozling Aaron Ramsey with a pirouette that brought a gasp of admiration from the crowd, McGeady looked up to find the Arsenal backline also admiring his footwork and lost no time in moving the ball inside Nacho Monreal for Robinson to open the scoring after Hugill's attempt was blocked.

The same combination almost struck again midway through the first half, with McGeady opening up Arsenal through the middle and then sending Paul Gallagher on an overlap only for Robinson to see a header stopped on the line from the cross.

Arsenal were in the sort of disarray that saw them go three goals down to Bournemouth on Tuesday, and Preston really should have gone two-up within half-an-hour after creating then spurning a marvellous opportunity in front of goal.

This time it was Robinson teeing up Hugill for what ought to have been a tap-in with the Arsenal defence shredded and goalkeeper David Ospina hopelessly exposed, yet though Robinson put his ball across the six-yard line in exactly the right place there was perhaps a little too much pace on the pass and his partner was unable to reach it.

Preston North End's Callum Robinson celebrates scoring the opening goal of his side's FA Cup third round tie with Arsenal. Photo: PA
Preston North End's Callum Robinson celebrates scoring the opening goal of his side's FA Cup third round tie with Arsenal. Photo: PA

Giroud put too much weight on a cross that should have allowed Alex Iwobi to equalise and Preston had been warned, yet they still went close to a second goal before the interval when Gallagher's lob over Ospina had to be cleared off the line by Monreal.

It was a lively Cup tie, to say the least, and any complaints about it being a little one-sided were answered when Arsenal equalised right at the start of the second half. Less than a minute had elapsed after the restart when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sent over a cross from the left that Preston never properly cleared, leaving Ramsey to make room for a shot and beat Chris Maxwell with a rising drive from the edge of the area for his first goal of the season.

Arsenal were such a different proposition in the second half, you wondered what they had been playing at in the first. Suddenly Preston were struggling to get out of their own half and the visitors were moving the ball around with their usual pace and precision. Gabriel was booked for an ugly foul on Hugill before his defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi came close to putting Arsenal in front, meeting a corner at the near post but finding Maxwell equal to his effort. Giroud then swept in a cross but from an offside position.

When the winner finally arrived with only a minute of normal time to spare it was Giroud who provided it, clipping the ball inside Maxwell's post from close range after Lucas Perez had set up the opportunity with a neat backheel.

Danny Welbeck was on the field at that point, making his first appearance in eight months. He came through unscathed, even bringing a save from Maxwell with a rasping stoppage-time shot, and Arsenal will be as relieved about that as they were over Giroud's late clincher.

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