Hat-trick hero Walcott returns to haunt Saints in masterclass
Southampton 0 Arsenal 5
Arsenal extended their unbeaten start to 2017 as they coasted into the FA Cup fifth round after comfortably disposing of Southampton, with Theo Walcott bagging a hat-trick against his former club and Danny Welbeck scoring twice. Arsenal put in a near-perfect away performance, with Arsene Wenger watching from the stands following his touchline ban. It was a display that ought to stand them in good stead too, with their next three away matches at Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Liverpool.
Wenger communicated through an earpiece to his trusted assistant, Steve Bould, and first-team coach, Neil Banfield, but stood to applaud Welbeck's opener. It was his first Arsenal goal since last April and his first double since England beat Slovenia at Wembley in 2014. It has been a long road back for Welbeck, making his first start for the club since he sustained knee cartilage damage of the penultimate day of last season at Manchester City.
It was quite the learning experience for Claude Puel's young Saints, and character-building if nothing else, in the first FA Cup meeting between the two sides since Robert Pires's winner in the 2003 final. Both teams were unrecognisable from their last matches - with both managers making 10 changes - but Arsenal played with their trademark attacking verve and curiosity. Only Shkodran Mustafi survived from the team that beat Burnley last Sunday, with the former Southampton pair Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain named in Wenger's attack-minded starting line-up.
Neither Aaron Ramsey nor Francis Coquelin travelled to the south coast and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ainsley Maitland-Niles impressed as unorthodox central midfielders. There was room, though, for Alexis Sanchez to squeeze on to the substitutes bench. This was Southampton's eighth match this month and despite wholesale changes Puel's side were second best throughout. Shane Long was captain of a youthful Saints lineup with only 38 starts in the top flight between them. For Southampton, the focus was very much on Tuesday's trip to Swansea City in the Premier League.
Wenger was serving the first game of his four-match touchline ban, after accepting an FA misconduct charge for pushing the fourth official, Anthony Taylor, at Burnley.
Arsenal were immediately on top, with Jeff Reine-Adelaide having a shot deflected wide after three minutes. The 19-year-old had his chance after Walcott put on the afterburners in front of the Kingsland Stand, just as he did as a teenager before joining Arsenal from Saints in 2006.
Lucas Perez then shot wide before Oxlade-Chamberlain drove low and wide from 20 yards. It was one-way traffic, with all of Southampton's players occupied inside their own half for much of this tie. It was a matter of time before Arsenal opened the scoring, with Welbeck obliging on his first start for 265 days. Perez sought out the England striker with a neat no-look through-ball and Welbeck dinked the ball over Southampton's teenage goalkeeper, Harry Lewis, and in off the crossbar.
Wenger stood up to applaud Welbeck's opener from the director's box and the Arsenal manager was back on his feet seven minutes later. Welbeck doubled his and Arsenal's tally after converting Oxlade-Chamberlain's magnificent lofted ball that cut out the entire Southampton back line. Welbeck controlled the ball with a majestic first touch before poking beyond Lewis with his second. Arsenal were in cruise control.
Long had a half-chance for the hosts, forcing David Ospina into a stop from a tight angle after a clever through-ball by Cuco Martina, but Arsenal were unrelenting. Walcott added the gloss to a fine away performance, after more good work by Welbeck. Perez was involved once more, picking out Welbeck who crossed low from the byline before Walcott eased Sam McQueen off the ball to tap home a third.
Despite their comfortable lead, Wenger introduced Sanchez shortly after the hour mark, much to the delight of the travelling Arsenal fans. Welbeck left the field after scoring his first double for the club and with the result sewn up.
Sanchez had been on the field for only four minutes but made an instant impact, putting the ball on a plate for Walcott to add his second goal of the match and deliver Arsenal a fourth.
Walcott then completed the rout, sealing his hat-trick after Sanchez rolled a low ball across the box for him, and he put the gloss on a sublime team performance. (Observer)
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