Second-half comeback sees Arsenal survive stage fright
So much about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger has taken on almost Shakespearean proportions of late. Last night, what was supposed to be some light relief with The Taming of the Shrews instead became a chaotic, first-half Comedy of Errors.
Arsenal made it through to the fourth round but this was far from an accomplished production as they toiled to overcome their lowly opponents. In truth, Shrewsbury outplayed Arsenal for periods and will feel aggrieved at the score, even if they were eventually overwhelmed.
Shrewsbury's early goal was a shock. Not just because they scored, but how easily. Marvin Morgan was allowed time and space to weigh up his cross for James Collins to head powerfully past Lukasz Fabianski from close range.
The Republic of Ireland U-21 international simply ran between the woeful stand-in captain Johan Djourou and Carl Jenkinson.
Shrewsbury had almost scored before that, Morgan running clear to roll a shot across Fabianski which bounced off a post. The goalkeeper recovered to turn Mark Wright's follow-up into the side-netting.
Wright was a threat as the visitors broke with pace and his shot was deflected narrowly wide by Djourou. From the corner, Fabianski flapped and Jermaine Grandison should have scored and, soon after, Shrewsbury broke, three on two, with only Gibbs's desperate intervention preventing another goal. Arsenal were in disarray.
That contribution proved even more significant when Jenkinson then crossed for Grandison to inadvertently flick the ball on to Gibbs, whose header beat Ben Smith to level the score. The relief was palpable.
The goal steadied them. For about 30 seconds. Shrewsbury were not to cowed and Lionel Ainsworth's fierce low cross was almost turned in by Collins.
Wenger had made 11 changes. But there were familiar failings. Not that this was a callow side either as it included five full internationals and £12m Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, against a League Two line-up lacking a first-choice central defensive partnership and with not enough players to fill the bench.
Arsenal needed relief and they got it with a fine strike from distance, albeit slightly deflected, by Oxlade-Chamberlain which skimmed under Smith and in.
Arsenal stretched their advantage when substitute Oguzhan Ozyakup forced his way to the byline and cut the ball back to Yossi Benayoun who, unmarked, took a touch and swept in his first goal for his new club.
Such was Wenger's relief -- he had been uncharacteristically inactive on the touchline -- that he eventually waved to the crowd who sang his name. (© Daily Telegraph, London)